June 16, 2024
Sensory and Socio-Moral Stimuli

Neural Signature of Disgust: A Common Response to Sensory and Socio-Moral Stimuli

Disgust, one of the fundamental human emotions, is often elicited by sensory stimuli that are perceived as revolting, off-putting, or unpleasant. However, this emotion is not limited to sensory experiences alone, as it can also be triggered by socio-moral situations that are unpleasant or morally objectionable.

Psychological research has traditionally linked disgust to specific facial expressions, movements, and physiological responses. While it is most commonly associated with tasting unpleasant food, smelling foul odors, or seeing revolting images, it can also arise in response to other stimuli, such as unpleasant social interactions.

Recently, a team of researchers from the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China and other institutes set out to explore the neural underpinnings of disgust and its generalization across contexts beyond eating. Their study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, revealed that the neurofunctional signature of subjective disgust is the same for oral distaste and unpleasant socio-moral experiences.

Although disgust originates from the hard-wired mammalian distaste response, the conscious experience of disgust in humans is heavily influenced by subjective appraisal. In fact, the researchers found that the neural response to socio-moral disgust is similar to that of sensor disgust, suggesting that the neural mechanisms underlying these two types of disgust are overlapping.

To better understand the neural basis of subjective disgust, the researchers employed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and machine-learning-based predictive modeling. Their comprehensive neurobiological model of subjective disgust revealed that certain brain regions, including the insula and the anterior cingulate cortex, play a crucial role in processing both sensory and socio-moral disgust.

The neural signature of subjective disgust is a common response to both sensory and socio-moral stimuli. While the hard-wired distaste response forms the foundation of this emotion, the conscious experience of disgust in humans is heavily influenced by subjective appraisal. The findings of this study provide valuable insights into the neural mechanisms underlying disgust and its generalization across different contexts.

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1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public Source, Desk Research
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