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Why Do Humans Find Insects So Incredibly Disgusting?

Why Do We Find Insects Incredibly Disgusting?

Whether it’s a small ladybug crawling on your skin or a giant wolf spider that seems to hunt you everywhere inside your house with an army of terrifying offspring, there’s one thing that most people tend to agree on. Insects are disgusting. Yes? You’ve probably wondered why you always prefer to stay away from these tiny creatures. Some people feel nauseous just by thinking of them. Well, count me in. But if they’re so small, then why shriek when you’re so much bigger? You can smash them with your fist or stomp them with your boots but there’s this instinct that’s just pulling you back from these nasty bugs.

And what is that?

Stimulus.

The fact that insects have a number of attributes that are very different from humans and animals that humans have evolved with triggers a rejection response. The unusual appearance of insects is the primary factor why people find them so disgusting. Spiders have eight eyes, centipedes have 100 legs, cockroaches have spiny legs which are all very different from us.

According to Psychology Professor Paul Rozin, the feeling of disgust is a “Revulsion Response” – a basic biological system that is derived from our sense of taste. However, Rozin clearly distinguished the stimulus being acquired when tasting something unfamiliar or bad, to what he calls “Core disgust” (i.e. One bites an apple and finds a worm in half; therefore spits it out, nauseated because of seeing it; not by tasting it.) This rejection response has culturally evolved into a natural instinct that people have been shaped into. In line with this, people then, have come to identify insects as something that has the ability to cause harm when touched or eaten. But right now, you may be wondering …

Why Do Some People Treat Insects as Pets?

This question allows this article to continually expand and emphasize the concept of stimulus. Some experimenting and adventurous juveniles (typically in Australia) have found the pleasure of keeping insects as pets and observe their way of sheltering, mating, eating and surviving. But why? Why do they keep these insects when most people shake in fear and disgust just by seeing them even from a distance?

People choose to keep insects as pets because they only take up a small space and they are very easy to take care of. In addition, after insect owners conquer the revulsion response they begin to develop an appreciation for the beauty of the insects which most people never do. Imagine yourself getting your soft cotton pajamas as you get ready for bedtime. As soon as you open your closet, to your surprise — a black widow spider greets your attention and freezes you to death while she enjoys her new comfortable harbor. Would you dare stare at her up close?

How much damage can insects actually bring to our society?

Another factor that contributes to our sense of disgust with these creatures is their harmful effects on our community. It comes with a varying degree of perception depending on what part of society their harm encompasses.

  • Plants. If they could only talk, desperate of help from the grasshoppers and caterpillars who damage their leaves and stems by their mouth drilling holes and leading to defoliation. No wonder farmers automatically choose to get rid of these plant pests using insecticides. However, these liquid sprays might also help damage the plants and crops by stunning their growth and natural development.
  • Animals. As much as humans hate the population of these pests, animals almost certainly do as well. Especially in the livestock. A herd of different species is vulnerable to the harm these mini monsters bring. Certain types of insects destroy the welfare of the livestock in Texas, Florida, and Louisiana drastically. Heel flies lay eggs in Cattle’s fur causing damage to their hides and meat; Lice spreading their offspring to the herd; Fleas and ticks causing anemia and disease transmissions; and so on.
  • Us. Nope. we’re not an exception from the list. You’re definitely wrong if you think these helpless beings are their only target preys. Humans are also a lump of meat for these tiny behemoths and bring a load of injectable diseases that have the ability to causes outbreaks in specific regions and countries. Malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, leishmaniasis, sleeping sickness, and the like. Sound familiar? What about fangs of spiders or scorpion sting waiting for you to wear your foot in your shoe where they found a new shelter of their own?

The list could continue but here is the main takeaway: The harm insects bring to people and animals is one of the major aspects driving our consciousness and stimuli to find them… Disgusting!

They are uninvited guests.

Now that we’ve moved into urban environments where close quarters and hygiene are at a premium, we find that the vast majority of our interactions with insects are negative in that they are the things that are invading our homes and our private spaces—our kitchens and bedrooms. Jeffrey Lockwood (an insect ecologist) stated in his 2013 Popular Science interview.

This implies that the cultural cognition of our surroundings is designed to be safe and clean as we inhabit the cities, compared to rural settings where it’s natural to see different kinds of bugs and other species.

Be it of bed bugs, cockroach, dust mites, silverfish, or carpet beetle, the fear of being bitten by these creatures and the resulting probability to spread population in our dear comfy mattress is what drives an inclination of our aversion to them.

They were always portrayed as villains.

Insects Portrayed As Villains Pest Control

Indeed, our dislike with insects has something to do with our own or someone’s past experiences of their harm (I.e. disease outbreaks and epidemic). But some factors that made our responses to climb its way further to revulsion is our own depiction of them as “disgusting”. What do I mean by this? How did insect and arachnid movies (e.g. Mimic 1997; Joe’s Apartment, and Arachnophobia), make you feel after watching them? Could you weigh whether you were you disgusted by their gooey flesh or an army of cockroaches gives you the creeps whenever you step inside your kitchen and garage? What about those spiders that went out of the sink strainer? 

On the other hand, why don’t we replace their villain roles? What if we produce more nursery rhymes like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Hickory Dickory Dock” (related to a mouse) and movies like “A Bug’s Life”? What if we replace Barney with a blue, friendly cockroach hugging kids on TV? Sounds funny but the point is that we, ourselves, are the ones responsible for making our nightmares even worse.

Jeffrey Lockwood was overwhelmed by a swarm of locusts while he was working on his field experiment one day at The University of Wyoming. He felt extremely terrified that he himself was overwhelmed by his vulnerability of panic despite his profession and practice (studying insects). Notwithstanding his statement, he clearly identified that his fear mainly had its own roots from his childhood when he would have repeated nightmares about a massive suffocating substance that filled his room. This, then, manifested resemblance to his experience in the field of Wyoming.

In the Christian literature, the 8th plague that was brought to Egypt by the God of Israel was also through a massive swarm of locusts to redeem the Israelites from being their captives. This time, it’s ferociously enormous that the scripture mentioned: “if you refuse to let My people go, behold, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your territory. And they shall cover the face of the earth so that no one will be able to see the earth; and they shall eat the residue of what is left, which remains to you from the hail, and they shall eat every tree which grows up for you out of the field”.

Conclusion

A series of events both fictional and non-fictional has helped depict insect’s existence as a negative one in our minds. Over time this perception compounded unto what it is today. Some insects harm. Some do not. However we want to think of them, there’s one thing that we will never be able to take out of the equation: They are a part of the ecology. Bees making the honey you enjoy pairing with cornbread and cheese. Moths and butterflies, pollinating the flowers and helping them survive through generations. They all give significance to our environment and thus create interdependence to all beings that participate in the flow of the whole ecosystem. Whether you like it or not. Whether you find them disgusting or not. Insects are here to stay whether our perception of them is negative or positive.

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