Rachel Herz


On her book That’s Disgusting: Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion

Cover Interview of February 20, 2012

A close-up

I would hope someone stumbling upon That’s Disgusting in a bookstore either first thumbed through the chapter on horror and perverse pleasures (Chapter 6, “Horror Show”), or the chapter on morality (Chapter 8, “Law and Order”).  I also hope that after skimming either of these chapters that reader would flip through the chapter on food, (Chapter 1, “Let’s Eat”).

Teaching my seminar course, “The Psychology of Aversion,” at Brown University, I discovered that horror movies have huge appeal.  However, I also know that interest in horror wanes with age and that not everyone is attracted to it—quite the opposite in fact, though this can also be a motivator for interest.  Therefore, readers who are intrigued by horror movies and more generally by the perversity of being attracted to things that are disgusting and “deadly” would be recommended to have a glance through this chapter.

Though I did not expect it while writing, the chapter on morality has been singled out by many who have formally reviewed the book as being of particular interest.  Moral disgust is also particularly complex and scientifically unresolved, and in fact I do not believe that we are disgusted in many instances when we say we are.  Why and what we are actually feeling is also revealed in Chapter 8.

The chapter on food touches on many of the conceptual curiosities that the rest of the book tackles in more depth—cross-cultural diversities and perversities, breaching taboos, and how mere thought can turn something from delightful to disgusting.  This chapter also contains a fair share of pop-culture oddities.