That’s Gross: Uncovering the Creepy and Crawly

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Everyone knows this popular Halloween game: turn out the lights, pass around a dried apricot and it’s easy to believe it’s a human earlobe. Peel some grapes and in the dark they feel just like human eyeballs. It’s a game that tricks the senses and it’s something Saint Joseph’s University psychologist Alex Skolnick, Ph.D., has been doing in his lab for the last several years.

“Of all the human emotions, disgust has probably gotten the least play in the lab,” admits Skolnick, who says it was only in the early 90s that psychologists started researching the repugnant. “What I find fascinating about disgust is how it is tied to the imagination and the way it can be manipulated by social factors.”

Just say the word, “disgusting,” and your nose automatically crinkles, your lips purse tightly together; you might even squint your eyes. The look is understood universally, and Skolnick knows it well. Using probes attached to his subjects’ faces, he has been tracking the reaction of subjects exposed to all things gross, seen and unseen.

“We found that women, put together in a room, were more likely to carry on about how disgusting something was,” Skolnick explains. “But paired with a male, women were likely to act braver, going as far as touching meal worms to their lips!”

Media Contact

Skolnick is an assistant professor of psychology. He can be reached by contacting the Office of University Communications at 610-660-1222.

Expand this section