The Evolution of Disgust--2012 Conference

Call for Poster Presentations

Paper and Poster Titles and Abstracts

Schematic Program

Location and Travel Information


Conference Funding:

ZiF Center for Interdisiplinary Research

Volkswagen Foundation

University of Osnabrueck

animal emotionale II project

The Evolution of Disgust: From Oral to Moral

January 4-7, 2012

ZiF Center for Interdisciplinary Research (Bielefeld, Germany)

Long overlooked, disgust has recently received increasing attention from a wide variety of disciplines, indicating that it plays an important role in many areas where its influence had not previously been considered, such as various forms of psychopathology, morality, intergroup emotions, and socio-political concerns. Disgust studies also promise to illuminate some general questions in emotion theory, such as what constitutes a ‘basic emotion’, and the relationship between basic emotions and more complex human emotions. Central to much recent discussion of disgust are questions about its evolution. The role of disgust in phobias is often explained in terms of ‘evolutionary preparedness’ to develop emotional responses to recurrent environmental threats (such as spiders). The role of disgust in moral and social judgments is often explained in terms of the evolutionary benefits that it conferred in historical environments, for example, avoiding incest, punishing or expelling social parasites, and protecting in-group members from exposure to novel pathogens carried by out-group members. Disgust in these more complex domains is often seen as emerging by Darwinian and cultural evolution from its simpler roots in parasite and pathogen avoidance. This conference will explore a wide variety of research on disgust, seen through the lens of evolution, and with an eye towards its theoretical and practical implications for emotion theory, psychiatry, morality and intergroup relations. (Continued Below...)

Invited Participants:

Elena Choleris

Jason Clark

Sylvia Cremer

Valerie Curtis

Michael de Barra

Andreas De Block

Peter J. de Jong

Daniel M.T. Fessler

Diana Santos Fleischman

Roger Giner-Sorolla

Martin Kavaliers

Dan Kelly

Andrew D. Lawrence

Debra Lieberman

Bunmi O. Olatunji

Linda Parker

Disa Sauter

Monique Smeets

Joshua M. Tybur

Henrik Walter

Sherri Widen

Understanding disgust will require the perspectives of researchers in many disciplines, from many cultures. Participants in the workshop have already expressed their interest in developing an international network of disgust researchers and plan to conduct joint cross-cultural studies on disgust. The workshop will help to facilitate such interactions. A number of participants have already suggested the organization of additional, follow-up conferences funded and located in their home countries. The workshop thereby has the potential to serve as both an end in itself, and as the beginning of larger collaboration. We will seek to publish the papers presented at the conference either as a special issue of the journal Emotion Review or another specialized journal focusing on emotion, or ideally as an edited volume.

The following are three core clusters of questions that will be the focus of the conference:


(1)   What are the evolutionary functions and history of ‘core’ or ‘basic’ disgust? Does core disgust occur in other animals, and if so, in what forms? What do the evolutionary functions of disgust tell us about how to categorize disgust sub-types of basic disgust?    

(2)   What is the role of disgust in social dynamics and moral judgments? How and why is disgust used to define in- and out-group membership? What are the advantages and downfalls of such disgust-based self-definition? Is socio-moral disgust a form of 'embodied wisdom', an extraneous factor that interferes with good moral judgment, or both?

(3)   What is the relationship between ‘basic’ or ‘core’ disgust and ‘higher cognitive’ or ‘socio-moral’ forms of disgust? Do higher cognitive forms of disgust emerge from basic forms of disgust through Darwinian or cultural evolution, or are they essentially separate constructs sharing a common name? Are the functions of socio-moral disgust systematically related to those of basic or core disgust?


Addressing these questions will also involve discussion of the following sub-topics:

 ·         Is disgust a basic emotion? Or is it (a) more like a reflex or basic drive and/or (b) a socially constructed higher cognitive emotion?

·         When and how does disgust develop? Is its developmental timetable different from that of other basic emotions? Does the development of disgust depend upon socialization factors to a greater degree than other emotions?

·         What is the role of disgust in psychopathologies such as phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, PTSD, and depression? Are we ‘evolutionarily prepared’ to respond to the stimuli associated with these disorders?

·         How does disgust interact with other emotions (such as anger) in socio-moral judgments?

·         What is the brain basis of disgust? Are the insula and parts of the basal ganglia selectively involved in disgust, or do they have a more general role in emotion? Is there overlap between brain regions mediating basic forms of disgust and those mediating higher cognitive forms of disgust?

·         What is the peripheral physiology of disgust? Do some elements of the physiological response suffice to differentiate it from other negative emotions?

·         What does cross-cultural evidence tell us about disgust? How do cultures differ in their typical objects of disgust? What elicitors are universal? How do different languages encode disgust?

·         How do we sub-type different forms of disgust? What do existing measures (such as the Disgust Scale) tell us about sub-types? Do the sub-types belong to a single overarching category of ‘disgust’, or is disgust not a unitary phenomenon?