Mealworms in a jam doughnut

That’s disgusting!

Disgust helps protect us from disease and illness

Why do we wince at the sight of wounds and recoil from rotting fruit? Is it that we’re taught to avoid the sorts of things that might harbour microbes? Or is disgust more instinctive than that?

The origin and purpose of disgust is still debated by psychologists. Some argue that it is a learned response while others think it is a result of millions of years of evolution. Whatever its origin, it certainly serves an important purpose: helping to protect us from disease. The fact that you are disgusted by the smell of rotten meat means that you are very unlikely to touch it or swallow it, and so your chances of getting ill are reduced.

Food, however, forms an interesting part of the debate. While most people may agree that, say, vomit and faeces are disgusting, what is unappetising to eat differs across the world.

Lead image:

Worms in a jam doughnut.

Ian Boyd/Flickr CC BY NC


Further reading

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Immune System’ in January 2015.

Health, infection and disease, Immunology
Immune System
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development