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Don’t Look, Don’t Touch, Don’t Eat

The Science Behind Revulsion

Every flu season, sneezing, coughing, and graphic throat-clearing become the day-to-day background noise in every workplace. And coworkers tend to move as far—and as quickly—away from the source of these bodily eruptions as possible. Instinctively, humans recoil from objects that they view as dirty and even struggle to overcome feelings of discomfort once the offending item has been cleaned. These reactions are universal, and although there are cultural and individual variations, by and large we are all disgusted by the same things.
            In Don’t Look, Don’t Touch, Don’t Eat, Valerie Curtis builds a strong case for disgust as a “shadow emotion”—less familiar than love or sadness, it nevertheless affects our day-to-day lives. In disgust, biological and sociocultural factors meet in dynamic ways to shape human and animal behavior. Curtis traces the evolutionary role of disgust in disease prevention and hygiene, but also shows that it is much more than a biological mechanism. Human social norms, from good manners to moral behavior, are deeply rooted in our sense of disgust. The disgust reaction informs both our political opinions and our darkest tendencies, such as misogyny and racism. Through a deeper understanding of disgust, Curtis argues, we can take this ubiquitous human emotion and direct it towards useful ends, from combating prejudice to reducing disease in the poorest parts of the world by raising standards of hygiene.
            Don’t Look, Don’t Touch, Don’t Eat reveals disgust to be a vital part of what it means to be human and explores how this deep-seated response can be harnessed to improve the world.  

184 pages | 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Biological Sciences: Behavioral Biology, Evolutionary Biology


"Well-sourced and often witty, Don’t Look delves into the science behind taboos and turned-up noses in occasionally stomach-churning but fascinating detail."


“For a book riddled with rancid and revolting things, Don’t Look, Don’t Touch is surprisingly difficult to put down. . . . Perhaps the most illuminating aspect of Curtis’s book is the elegant parallel she draws between parasite avoidance and moral judgment, revealing how a mechanism for keeping us physically well could have led to our lip curling at bad manners, loutish behavior and the perpetrators of crime.”

Times Literary Supplement

“It is great fun (yucky things always are), and Curtis writes well, but there is a deeper purpose to this book: things that make you say ‘euw’ often (though not always) require vigilance because they may be harmful.”

Toronto Star

“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 | author of How the Mind Works and The Better Angels of Our Nature

“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 this new science of disgust, to which she has been a main contributor.” 

Dan Sperber | French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, author of Relevance and Meaning

 “An entertaining and informative book. The writing is clear and engaging. . . . Valerie Curtis’s extensive professional experience in the world of hygiene and disease prevention give a nice personal touch throughout, as she has at hand both grabby examples and anecdotes, as well as compelling public health reasons for why we ought to attend to disgust.” 

Daniel M. T. Fessler | University of California, Los Angeles

“Disgust, Curtis decided, must have been an adaptive mechanism to prevent humans from coming in contact with infection. As she argues in her short book, Don't Look, Don't Touch, Don't Eat, humans have evolved to be ‘disgustable.’”


Table of Contents

Preface: Unweaving the Rainbow

1. Evasion of the Body Snatchers

2. Into the Hot Zone

3. Disgust’s Diversity

4. Maner Mayks Man

5. Moral Disgust

6. Disgust Matters

Epilogue:Disgust: The Unfinished Story


Appendix: The London Disgust Scale

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