Why Facial Disfigurements Creep Us Out

Whether we realize it or not, most of us have a knee-jerk reaction when we see someone with a facial disfigurement, such as psoriasis, a cleft lip, or a birthmark. We may sit away from them on the bus, hesitate to shake their hand, or even give a barely masked look of revulsion. A new study suggests these disgust reactions stem from an ancient disease-avoidance system that normally prevents us from catching illnesses. Essentially, we treat facial disfigurements like infectious diseases.

Psychologists have recently begun to uncover where disgust comes from, with some researchers believing the emotion is similar to fear. Fear evolved to keep you away from large animals that want to eat you from the outside. Disgust evolved to keep you away from smaller animals that kill you from the inside. Our subconscious minds constantly scan the environment for signs of potential diseases. If we see one, disgust kicks in and we avoid that object or person like the plague.

But it seems our disease-avoidance system sometimes gets it wrong. Previous studies suggested these mistakes underlie the aversion people have to various disfigurements. Learn more here.

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