Join 3,574 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Ewwwww!
July 18, 2007 8:31 AM   Subscribe

Researchers have demonstrated what veteran dumpster divers have known for years: contact with a disgusting thing, even without the possibility of contamination, makes us perceive something as disgusting.
posted by Pope Guilty (64 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
*reads article*
*washes hands incessantly*

posted by Plutor at 8:38 AM on July 18, 2007


It's not irration fear. It's symapthetic magic - do you know nothing about the Law of Contagion?
posted by GuyZero at 8:39 AM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Aha! I know a guy who worked on that study with Rozin, he told me about the cockroach experiment a long time ago. They mention the diaper in the article but didn't say that they were serving chocolate pudding in it.
posted by The Straightener at 8:44 AM on July 18, 2007


No shit?
posted by Eekacat at 8:45 AM on July 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


I do, in fact, know about the Law of Contagion, and the Law of Sympathy besides.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:48 AM on July 18, 2007


Did they offer anyone any kind of incentive to drink the orange juice? Or was it just, "HERE IS OJ WITH A BUG, DRINK IT NOW"?
posted by Greg Nog at 8:50 AM on July 18, 2007


Did they offer anyone any kind of incentive to drink the orange juice?

Isn't orange juice an incentive? I mean, by and large people pay to drink orange juice. I've never seen a breakfast buffet advertised as "$7.99, or $6.99 if you drink the orange juice."
posted by L. Fitzgerald Sjoberg at 8:52 AM on July 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


Have you seen these "Green Shrek Snicker's bars"? Some genius at snickers decided to die the caramel or whatever in snickers bars green in order to tie into the movie. The label insists "Same great taste" but I refuse to try 'em. It was probably one of the dumbest product tie ins ever. Who would want to eat these things?
posted by delmoi at 8:52 AM on July 18, 2007


Researchers have known this for years too. Steven Pinker describes it in How the Mind Works which I read about 10 years ago. Presumably the research itself was even longer ago.
posted by DU at 8:52 AM on July 18, 2007


TIME Magazine?!? GEDIOFFGEDIOFFGEDIOFFGEDIOFFGEDIOFFGEDIOFF!!!

*Burns monitor, severs mouse-clicking finger*
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:53 AM on July 18, 2007 [3 favorites]


I dunno, if some scientist was standing there in front of me with a glass of perfectly normal OJ, being all, "I have a theory. Drink this," I think I'd be like, "Oh, you know what, I had a big breakfast, thanks though, maybe later."
posted by Greg Nog at 8:54 AM on July 18, 2007 [7 favorites]


Reminds me rather of Bruce Hood's jumper. See also.
posted by edd at 8:54 AM on July 18, 2007


This principle can also be used to your benefit. When riding on public transportation, put two squares of clean toilet paper on the seat next to you, and nobody will sit there.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:54 AM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Before anyone else checks out that link, keep in mind that I just licked it.
posted by goatdog at 8:56 AM on July 18, 2007 [8 favorites]


And I think that learning a sweater had belonged to a famous serial killer would make me more likely to want to wear it, but I'm just strange that way.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:57 AM on July 18, 2007


Who would wear the cardigan Bruce was holding for a payment of £10? Nearly all hands raised. Who would do so once informed that it had belonged to notorious killer Fred West? Nearly all hands lowered.

WTF. Is this offer still open?
posted by DU at 8:57 AM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Unlike a study in, say, particle astrophysics, this one has practical consequences.

Another hard-hitting article from Time Magazine.
posted by rxrfrx at 9:00 AM on July 18, 2007


Paul Rozin, a professor of psychology, took a cockroach that had been sterilized, dipped it into a glass of orange juice, then asked if anyone was willing to take a sip. Nobody was.

Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!
posted by fandango_matt at 9:02 AM on July 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


They didn't want to wear it, because that might reduce the ebay yield.
posted by pompomtom at 9:03 AM on July 18, 2007


How do they account for the fact that there are actually some people willing to eat that horrendously revolting Kitty Litter Cake.

DO NOT WANT. I CAN HAS AIRSIC BAG?
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:08 AM on July 18, 2007


Q1: How do you sterilize a cockroach? Q2: Can we go ahead and sterilize them all?
posted by found missing at 9:14 AM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow- actually, this really explains my social life.
posted by hincandenza at 9:20 AM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


I can finally put to rest those 2 days in 1975 when I was known only as "Dog Poop Foot". Whew!
posted by SaintCynr at 9:46 AM on July 18, 2007


This principle can also be used to your benefit. When riding on public transportation, put two squares of clean toilet paper on the seat next to you, and nobody will sit there.

Yeah, this stuff doesn't work on me. I will do what it takes to sit down.

I actually got in a fight with my partner because his stick of deodorant fell into the toilet (lid on) and I fished it out and washed it off. He demanded I throw it away. "But I washed it! With hot water and soap!" No, throw it away.

When I refused to back down he said, "Now I'm even more freaked out, imagining what OTHER kinds of disgusting stuff you do when I'm not around to stop you." It got thrown away.
posted by hermitosis at 9:50 AM on July 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


posted by hermitosis I actually got in a fight with my partner because his stick of deodorant fell into the toilet (lid on) and I fished it out and washed it off. He demanded I throw it away. "But I washed it! With hot water and soap!" No, throw it away.

This poses an interesting question: If your toothbrush fell in the toilet, would you wash it and use it, or throw it away?
posted by fandango_matt at 10:02 AM on July 18, 2007


There's a very real possibility for there to be bits of fecal matter in toilets, though. Is there any research on the topic?
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:06 AM on July 18, 2007


Come on, people. If we can sterilize a cockroach, surely we can sterilize a toothbrush!
posted by found missing at 10:07 AM on July 18, 2007


Greg Nog: "I dunno, if some scientist was standing there in front of me with a glass of perfectly normal OJ, being all, "I have a theory. Drink this," I think I'd be like, "Oh, you know what, I had a big breakfast, thanks though, maybe later.""

Especially if it happened at a talk titled "Disgusting Things: Can I Convince You To Drink Them?"
posted by Plutor at 10:12 AM on July 18, 2007 [4 favorites]


I'd like to see this experiment repeated to see what the differences in tolerances are for parents and caregivers (or even pet owners) versus the general population. It's amazing how tolerant of disgusting things you become with a 2-year-old in the house, and after changing enough diapers, wiping enough noses, and cleaning enough vommy, you start to make finer distinctions between filthy things, the objects they come into contact with, and the people who create them.
posted by litfit at 10:15 AM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well, I guess that explains why I am no longer married...
posted by Samizdata at 10:30 AM on July 18, 2007


"Whatever the severity of the taint, the result was predictable"

Heh heh heh. Taint.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:33 AM on July 18, 2007


Evolution doesn't understand sterilization or other artificial things that make disgusting things non-disgusting.

I think it's a reasonable position to say that evolutionary processes favor those who harbor this distate for things-that-touch-disgusting-things; since bacteria and whatnot *do* exist on most disgusting things, it's to our benefit to have this aversion for disgusting-adjacent things as well, as it's likely the bacteria and whatnot have migrated. Those that don't have the aversion (for the most part) died out a long time ago, as they were more likely to get infected.

In the face of that kind of evolutionary pressure, a scientist "sterilizing" a cockroach has no chance at all.
posted by davejay at 10:41 AM on July 18, 2007


Slight derail...

I used to have this really absurd homophobic "cooties" thing. If my friends (guys) offered me a drink of what they were drinking, I would absolutely NOT drink it.

If it were a girl, however, it wouldn't phase me a bit. Then I find out I'm bi-curious and it all makes sense... Repression, baby.

boy germs... heh.

resume thread:
posted by symbioid at 10:51 AM on July 18, 2007


Eh. This is common sense stuff. Also, I can think of alternative reasons to avoid most of these scenarios and most of them are rational. Namely, a lot of them would trigger my mistrust. How can I know for sure that the researcher properly sterilized the cockroach? What does that even mean? Maybe people are afraid of the social stigma of being a serial killer sweater fetishist?

The grocery store proximity stuff is pretty unintuitive, though. Certainly there's an alternate explanation, though, because most (sane) people don't squick out when the bag of kitty litter touches the package of potato chips when they're in the cart, but in that scenario, they're the one who had control. If anything, I'd say that the fear in these comes from a lack of control, just as the TP on the bus seat is squicky because I don't know it's history. It could look clean, or it could have been stuck to someone's shoe and dragged through something icky and just looks clean, or was used to wipe up a clear booger or something. Certainly that scenario seems more likely than the selfish, passive aggressive dude just wants to hog a row of seats theory.

A lot of these have that middle school bully, "PSYCHE! The cockroach really wasn't clean!" vibe going for them, too.
posted by Skwirl at 10:52 AM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Come on, people. If we can sterilize a cockroach, surely we can sterilize a toothbrush!

The sterilization isn't the problem... it's that shit-eating grin.
posted by eddydamascene at 10:57 AM on July 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


This principle can also be used to your benefit. When riding on public transportation, put two squares of clean toilet paper on the seat next to you, and nobody will sit there.

Funnily enough, I would use orange juice (not post-steralized cockroach though) to "save" myself a seat on the train. I simply poured out about a third of an inch of OJ into the seat next to me (in a two seater). This was enough juice to make it nearly impossible for someone to wipe up with any tissue or kleenex they may have on them (though I had a lady waste an entire box of travel kleenex mopping this up once), but not too much where the juice would slosh over to my seat when the train was moving. SUCKERS!!!!

I don't do this anymore...
...well not all the time any way
posted by Debaser626 at 11:04 AM on July 18, 2007


Q1: How do you sterilize a cockroach?

I don't know, really tight briefs?
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:05 AM on July 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


symbioid -- When I was single, my rule was:

1. Maximize opportunities to make out with cute girls.
2. Minimize exposure to germs unless it violates rule 1.

So if I was with a girl and I didn't want them to be clued in to my paranoid, compulsive leanings, I'd share the drink. Guys? No thanks. No homophobia needed.

I only bring it up because it really was a conscious process.
posted by Skwirl at 11:07 AM on July 18, 2007


Funnily enough, I would use orange juice (not post-steralized cockroach though) to "save" myself a seat on the train...

Wow, you're a complete asshole. Congratulations!
posted by cmonkey at 11:22 AM on July 18, 2007 [5 favorites]


This principle can also be used to your benefit. When riding on public transportation, put two squares of clean toilet paper on the seat next to you, and nobody will sit there.

If you put 2 squares of used toilet paper on the seat next to you, you can have that whole side of the bus to yourself.
posted by carsonb at 11:27 AM on July 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


Wow - I can't believe they didn't reference Mary Douglas' 1966 work, "Purity and Danger." I actually just took a fascinating course on the Levitican laws that dealt primarily with this issue.

Douglas deals with mosaic law in one of the chapters of her book - though her "category" theory on purity is applicable across the full spectrum of human experience.

Humans are profoundly disturbed by disorder and chaos. We seemed to be wired to find patterns and categories. Observe, for example, simple potting soil. When it's in your house, in a houseplant pot, it's soil. When it's on the floor, it's dirt. Hair is fine, as long as it's on your head. When it's in your food it's disgusting. Many have attempted to use this as something of an explanation for homophobia - a phenomenon that continues to baffle social scholars - insofar as a penis, when it's in a vagina, is fine, but when it's in an anus is somehow categorically wrong or false and therefore must be taboo.

Ancient cultures developed rudimentary scientific systems based on the notion of purity - many levitican laws call for strange restrictions. If an animal has a hoof, it may be eaten. But if it chews it's cud and has a cloven hoof, it doesn't fit the category. Therefore, it is either sacred or taboo. Mixing fibers in clothing violates category laws and therefore purity laws. Shrimp and shellfish don't seem to fit into any regular category, so they must not be eaten.

We do this everyday. It's really quite fascinating. Others have criticized Douglas' theory for being too broad - in that it almost represent a unifying theory - it explains too much. I think (especially as someone who studies religious behavior) that it tends to explain quite a bit about the way in which humans respond to an experience of the numinous, something that by its very nature is chaotic and impossible to describe with our limited language - but that we are compelled to explain. We do so with categories. God says this and this is good, and this and this is bad, and this allows us to cope with revelation.

This is great stuff. The article, unfortunately, was so shallow as to be nearly useless though.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:30 AM on July 18, 2007


davejay: "Those that don't have the aversion (for the most part) died out a long time ago, as they were more likely to get infected."

I would argue the exact opposite of that statement. It seems that this revulsion is rather a product of organized civil society, and that individuals who avoided infection to the degree that we do today would never have succeeded in breeding - as they wouldn't have developed antibodies to the germs. Also, their kids would be sickly because they wouldn't pass any antibodies on to them.
Observe - today we have all kinds of sickly kids running around - it seems as though every other kid has asthma or something. Their parents are germophobes - every time the kid picks up a soccer ball or climbs a tree they douse them with "antimicrobial handwash" or something. Now we get sick a ton.

I think natural selection would favor families or tribes who developed the most antibodies - not the ones who fastidiously avoided things that are dirty.

Also - I don't really think "evolution" has anything to do with this, because we only recently (in historic terms) discovered that dirty things can make you sick. Of course, we've always known not to eat rotten meat, but for the most part we were some dirty, stinky mofos for the majority of our evolution as a species. Some of us still are.
*subtle nod toward jonmc*
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:40 AM on July 18, 2007


Rozin's other work on portion size and unit bias is also very interesting and gets a lot of media coverage.

Psychologists Believe "Unit Bias" Determines the Acceptable Amount to Eat.

Geier and Penn psychology professor Paul Rozin designed their experiments to observe how people choose to act in the presence of unlimited free food in public or private settings. In their study, they presented unsuspecting people with M&M's candies, Tootsie Rolls and Philadelphia-style soft pretzels. When changing the size of the portions whether by offering a whole or half of a pretzel, for example people will see the offered portion as a single unit. In the pretzel experiment, people would take and eat an entire pretzel even though they were eating twice as much as the other people who were sufficiently satisfied with a half pretzel as a single unit.

They also observed how the means of serving the portion could influence how much food is eaten. In the M&M experiment, the researchers offered a large mixing bowl of the candy at the front desk of the concierge of an apartment building. Below the bowl hung a sign that read "Eat Your Fill" with "please use the spoon to serve yourself" written underneath.

If presented with a small spoon, most passersby would take a single scoop, even though the sign encouraged them to take more. If given a much larger spoon, the subjects would still take a single scoop, even though that one scoop contained much more candy. The subjects were inadvertently eating twice as much candy when the larger scoop happened to be in the bowl.

"It is more than just people afraid of appearing greedy. They didn't know they were being observed," Geier said. "We have a culturally enforced 'consumption norm,' which promotes both the tendency to complete eating a unit and the idea that a single unit is the proper amount to eat."


Also, a letter from Rozin and Geier to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
posted by The Straightener at 11:59 AM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow, you're a complete asshole. Congratulations!
posted by cmonkey at 2:22 PM on July 18 [1 favorite +] [!]


Thanks!
posted by Debaser626 at 12:03 PM on July 18, 2007


This poses an interesting question: If your toothbrush fell in the toilet, would you wash it and use it, or throw it away?

Wash it and use it. Is there anything lurking in my clean (by toilet standards) oft-rinsed toilet that can't be washed off with soap and hot water?

Then again I come from a farming family, where waste is akin to treason. YMMV.
posted by hermitosis at 12:35 PM on July 18, 2007


"This poses an interesting question: If your toothbrush fell in the toilet, would you wash it and use it, or throw it away?
posted by fandango_matt


I don't even keep my toothbrush in the bathroom. It sits on a shelf across the hall from the bathroom door.
posted by mce at 12:41 PM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


posted by Pope Guilty Is there any research on the topic?

Yes.

Toilet water cleaner than drinking fountains, Teen's science project shows
posted by fandango_matt at 12:54 PM on July 18, 2007


posted by Greg Nog Or was it just, "HERE IS OJ WITH A BUG, DRINK IT NOW"?

They're going to spend the rest of their lives looking for the Real Swillers.
posted by fandango_matt at 1:01 PM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


I once completely disgusted my wife by putting a half-spoonful of cottage cheese into a class of milk, stirring and drinking it. She nearly gagged. She knew it was cottage cheese, but she could not get herself around the idea of drinking clumpy milk.

(Why did I do it? To test my theory that it was how they created "spoiled" milk as props in movies. Visually, I think I was dead on.)
posted by caution live frogs at 1:03 PM on July 18, 2007


Delmoi: I bought that green snickers. I have no idea why. But it's a rip off, the thing isn't really green. I couldn't see any green inside at all, except for a very vague greenish hue. I thought it's going to be an intense vegetal green. So you see now how it's a double rip-off?
posted by rainy at 1:03 PM on July 18, 2007


This is why I never touch myself.
posted by inconsequentialist at 1:14 PM on July 18, 2007


I once completely disgusted my wife by putting a half-spoonful of cottage cheese into a class of milk

What class of milk was it? I mean, if it was proletariat milk, I'd be pretty grossed out, too. I guess bourgeois milk wouldn't be quite as bad.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:15 PM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is why I never touch myself.

This is why I'd never shake hands with Ron Paul.
posted by maxwelton at 2:00 PM on July 18, 2007


Related thread.
posted by homunculus at 2:04 PM on July 18, 2007


I don't think the author's reasoning applies real well to the ankle-biting set.

Regarding the Shrek-green snickers, there is a pretty big market out there now for "gross" candies. Far from being repelled by the stuff, little kids seem to relish chowing down on treats that make their parents cringe. My nephews are great fans of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, and it seems to me like their only dilemma with them is whether to enjoy daring each other to slowly eat the icky ones, or save them and try to get their parents or unsuspecting aunts and uncles to eat them so they can have conniptions at the look of revulsion screwing up the grown-up faces. (Go ahead. Try the vomit flavored one. You won't forget it soon, I promise.)

That is why that green candy bar sounds like such an awful idea to you Delmoi - you're an adult.
posted by John Smallberries at 3:28 PM on July 18, 2007


Eponysterical.
posted by eritain at 4:07 PM on July 18, 2007


I wouldn't mind the sterile cockroach in the juice if I didn't suspect that the cockroach, you know, has a flavor that could seep around the glass. You can't sterilize a flavor, can you?
posted by Anything at 4:55 PM on July 18, 2007


I forgot to mention earlier that there was another version of the cockroach experiment where they used a piece of cooked meat to attempt to determine how strong a vector food provided for this sense of contamination. If they touched the cockroach to one end of a steak and allowed the subject to eat a piece from the other, they would. Then they would touch the cockroach to a spot on the steak closer to where the eater was cutting from to see how close the eater would let them get before getting grossed out and refusing to continue.
posted by The Straightener at 5:22 PM on July 18, 2007


At the Exploritorium museum in San Francisco, they have this 'toilet fountain'--a water fountain mounted in fake toilet. The nearby sign mentions similar reasons on why people don't want to drink from it.

I was going to drink from it, until I realized that people were watching me and getting grossed out. I realized that they would have avoided me for the same reasons, so I stopped.

I gave in to social pressure. I'm so ashamed.
posted by eye of newt at 8:14 PM on July 18, 2007


This poses an interesting question: If your toothbrush fell in the toilet, would you wash it and use it, or throw it away?

I recently witnessed a co-worker set his toothbrush on top of a urinal in the office bathroom, from which it dropped into the urinal. He then fished it out, set it down again and used the urinal, and as I left the bathroom he was rinsing the toothbrush off in a sink.

Maybe it's my irrational cootie-phobia, but there are so many things about that scenario that creep me out, I don't know where to start.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 9:39 PM on July 18, 2007


Gold. I want to favorite every comment in this thread.

But some have already been favorited by other people. ewwww.
posted by dreamsign at 2:04 AM on July 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's not evolutionary. It's based on societal norms. I invite anyone to go to Egypt. They will see that their threshold for eww is much, much higher. I have seen bread that was kept on an open rack 2 inches or less from the street, people sitting in vegetable carts with their bare feet touching the produce, and even meat and food with flies on it. People still buy and eat it.

People in the US are extremely finicky when it comes to cleanliness and hygiene, more so than probably anywhere else in the world. This is part of the reason why it is nearly impossible to get your hands on non-pasteurized milk, cheese, or cider products anywhere in the US.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:38 AM on July 19, 2007


Deathalicious - probably also why we get sick all the damn time.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:04 AM on July 19, 2007


I have seen bread that was kept on an open rack 2 inches or less from the street, people sitting in vegetable carts with their bare feet touching the produce, and even meat and food with flies on it.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:38 AM on July 19 [+] [!]


Eponysterical?
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:26 PM on July 23, 2007


« Older australianscreen...   |   Presidential candidate Ron Pau... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments