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Crickets And Cannibals: Unpacking The Complicated Emotion Of Disgust

Could you eat a cricket?
Parth Shah/NPR

It's 3 a.m. You wake up abruptly with a bad case of dry mouth. You drag yourself out of bed and begin fumbling in the dark to get a glass of water.

You flip on the light switch, and there it is — a brown flash. A cockroach skitters across the counter.

Did reading this disgust you?

It may seem instinctive to recoil in horror after seeing a roach in your kitchen. But psychologist Rachel Herz argues that it's not.

"Disgust is the instinct that has to be learned," she says. "Young children are not very good at recognizing disgust faces. In fact, they often mistake the face of disgust with the face of anger."

This week on Hidden Brain, we unpack the complicated emotion of disgust, and explore the ick factor that makes cockroaches, poop, and skunks so gross to us.

Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Parth Shah, Rhaina Cohen, and Jennifer Schmidt. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @HiddenBrain, and listen for more of our stories on your public radio station.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Parth Shah is a producer and reporter in the Programming department at NPR. He came to NPR in 2016 as a Kroc Fellow.
Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.