GROSS! Why disgusting is irresistible KID NEWS

October 29, 1998|By Kelly Milner Halls | Kelly Milner Halls,Chicago Tribune

If you hear there's something gross around, chances are you'll wanna see it. If it stinks, oozes or pulsates, half the neighborhood might come running. But why? What makes "gross" almost irresistible to mankind? And how do we define exactly what "gross" is?

"It's hard to define gross," says William I. Miller, who wrote "The Anatomy of Disgust," "because it will often vary from one culture to the next. But what is constant is that each culture will find something disgusting."

Sylvia Branzei, author of the cool "Grossology" books, says: "Anything that makes your nose turn up and your stomach clinch is gross." But she agrees what triggers that response can depend on who you are and where you live.

For example, most U.S. citizens would gag at the thought of eating insects. But some people in Africa, Australia and South America enthusiastically gobble bugs. Still, children's author Eric Elman says, some bugs are universally disgusting. "The one thing that comes close is the cockroach."

Human waste is another candidate for internationally gross. Miller says disgust sets up societal rules. "It says, 'Thou shalt not touch this; don't get near it.' It tells us something is dangerous."

Of course, calling something gross or "off limits" frequently backfires. "Any time you tell somebody not to do something, it becomes desirable in a way," Miller says. "Just look at Adam and Eve. Nothing was off limits except for that little fruit. So they had to have it."

Pub Date: 10/29/98

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