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Don't Look, Don't Touch: The science behind revulsion Hardcover – 26 Sep 2013
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...for a book riddled with rancid and revolting things, Don't Look, Don't Touch is suprisingly difficult to put down. (Nicola K.S.Davis, TLS)
Thanks to the recent development of evolutionary psychology, scientists understand disgust, its function, and its mechanisms as never before. Moving with ease across disciplines and from theory to arresting concrete examples, Valerie Curtis shares in this highly readable book the findings and questions of this new science of disgust, to which she has been a main contributor. (Dan Sperber, cognitive scientist at the Institut Jean Nicod, Paris and Central European University, Budapest)
Gross! Yuck! Ew! The psychology of disgust has turned into one of the hottest topics in the human sciences. It's tied in surprising ways to health, nutrition, sex, evolution, even religion and morality. Valerie Curtis, one of the deepest thinkers and cleverest researchers on this part of human nature, turns revulsion into fascination. (Steven Pinker, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Better Angels of Our Nature)
About the Author
Valerie Curtis is an anthropologist and Director of the Hygiene Centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In 2002 she founded a global public-private partnership involving Unicef, the World Bank, Proctor and Gamble to promote handwashing. She is the author of a number of important research papers and has written for a range of magazines, newspapers, and journals, including New Scientist and The Economist. She regularly appears on television and radio.
Top customer reviews
Disgust is broken down into food/animal, sexual, lesions, hygiene, other people and contamination.
Apparently we are not cannibals (we don't "nibble on our neighbours") because we are more likely to get infections if we eat near relatives.
Like a lot of scientists publishing material they are very excited about, Curtis looks around at other theories and dismisses them as "magical," her example of a bully is "one who pushes for an unfair share of the research fund."
Although disgust therefore has its use, to steer us away from parasites and pathogens, Curtis points out the downside when it is taken to extreme, leading to problems like OCD, and discrimination against homosexuality, the aged, disabled and sick.
I'm not sure how serious Curtis is when she finishes by saying "in the same way that disgust has an adaptive function, so too does love," enthusiastically describing how she could investigate the pathologies of the love system.
Surprisingly for an OUP book there are several typos. Pages 128 - 184 are notes and references. Right at the end before the index is the London Disgust scale, which I completed and found, not to my surprise, that I'm quite highly squeamish. This interesting book will make you squeamish too but will also make you think.
The links to manners and class as society became more sophisticated is thought provoking but in the end, the conclusion that it all stems from a simple fear of parasites and pathogens to my mind doesn't fully explain the subsequent complexity of human application of disgust, which generates a more sophisticated- and often hyperbolic- reactions in the human mind than a self-preservation instinct alone. A good, well written introduction to the issue nonetheless and worth a look.
I was only out of my depth a couple of times, which is surprising as this is mostly an extensive review of research on how our natural reaction to threat of parasites has moulded society and our individual behaviour. The link between disgust and morality was interesting - much food for thought there.
I often thought of Mother Theresa of Calcutta while reading about disgust separating social classes.
In some passages the assumption about where in prehistory our current behaviour originated as an evolutionary advantage was just too pat without more explanation.
I was disappointed that there was nothing specific about why small boys enjoy using words to describe defecation, their genitalia and other "disgusting" areas of interest. There must be a reason for that. Girls don't seem to do it, so far as I can remember, so perhaps it's part of that hardening process which the author finds in research - that men are less sensitive than women (who perhaps need to be more fastidious because they are bearing, protecting and raising children).
Dirt is a topic that is still generally a taboo in this country even though its impact affects us all. This book includes research and examples which illustrate why we feel as we do towards unpleasant things.
The subject of cleaning is also examined and the author reminds us, that in spite of its importance, cleaning is still considered a lowly task which continues to carry with it a negative attitude towards those who work to keep our environments clean.
This book is an excellent read for those involved in a variety of disciplines - it make you think! - and I highly recommend it.
If it's bnever occured to you that disgust is an interesting topic perhaps related to tribalism hard-wired into the brain... than you may feel you learned something.
Most recent customer reviews
We're all repulsed by something or another - there's much to consider vile or...Read more
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