Disgust: Evolved function and structure

Joshua M. Tybur, Debra Lieberman, Robert Kurzban, Peter DeScioli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

375 Scopus citations


Interest in and research on disgust has surged over the past few decades. The field, however, still lacks a coherent theoretical framework for understanding the evolved function or functions of disgust. Here we present such a framework, emphasizing 2 levels of analysis: that of evolved function and that of information processing. Although there is widespread agreement that disgust evolved to motivate the avoidance of contact with disease-causing organisms, there is no consensus about the functions disgust serves when evoked by acts unrelated to pathogen avoidance. Here we suggest that in addition to motivating pathogen avoidance, disgust evolved to regulate decisions in the domains of mate choice and morality. For each proposed evolved function, we posit distinct information processing systems that integrate function-relevant information and account for the trade-offs required of each disgust system. By refocusing the discussion of disgust on computational mechanisms, we recast prior theorizing on disgust into a framework that can generate new lines of empirical and theoretical inquiry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-84
Number of pages20
JournalPsychological Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013


  • Adaptation
  • Cognition
  • Disgust
  • Emotion
  • Evolutionary psychology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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