Behind every wave of disgust that comes your way may be a biological imperative much greater than the urge to lose your lunch, according to a growing body of research by a UCLA anthropologist.
"The reason we experience disgust today is that the response protected our ancestors," said Dan Fessler, associate professor of anthropology and director of UCLAs Center for Behavior, Evolution, and Culture. "The emotion allowed our ancestors to survive long enough to produce offspring, who in turn passed the same sensitivities on to us."
Across a series of subtle and ingenious studies, Fessler has managed to illuminate the ways in which disgust may have served to protect our ancestors during such biologically precarious situations as pregnancy and to maximize the likelihood of our forbears reproduction when they were at their most fertile.
Fesslers research also illustrates how the emotional response that helped our ancestors may not serve us as well today and may actually promote xenophobia, sexual prejudices and a range of other irrational reactions.
"We often respond to todays world with yesterdays adaptations," Fessler said. "Thats why, for instance, were more afraid of snakes than cars, even though were much more likely to die today as a result of an encounter with a car than a reptile."
Fessler will present his findings at 2 p.m. on Friday, March 30, as part of a three-day conference at UCLA on new research concerning emotions. The event, "Seven Dimensions of Emotion: Integrating Biological, Clinical and Cultural Perspectives on Fear, Disgust, Love, Grief, Anger, Empathy and Hope," which runs Friday through Sunday, March 30April 1, will include 40 scholars from around the world. The conference will be held in Korn Hall at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and is sponsored by UCLA and the Foundation for Psychocultural Research.