Science explains why your most disgusting memories are the ones you remember best

Science explains why your most disgusting memories are the ones you remember best

Getting pigeon droppings on your hair, eating spoiled food… When you were younger, were you sickened by an experience and do you still have a clear memory of it? This process is completely normal, according to Science.

Why do disgusting and traumatic experiences imprint our memory more deeply? Disgust would indeed appeal to multiple senses, suggests a study published in the journal The Royal Society.

Smell, taste and touch are involved

The researchers’ theory is as follows: “Proximal sensory disgust signals, i.e. involving smell, taste and touch, result in more intense disgust experiences than distal sensory disgust signals, i.e. involving vision and hearing.

This means that experiences that arouse disgust not only engage our sense of smell, taste and touch – such as when we find ourselves stuck behind a garbage truck – but they would also be particularly salient.

To confirm this hypothesis, the research team interviewed individuals about their experiences and in particular those which inspired them the most disgust in their lives, from the oldest to the most recent.

And you, what is your most “disgusting” memory?

They also asked them about “morally questionable” experiences and those that led to a feeling of fear. They then asked participants to rate how much their senses helped in remembering the event.

I remember when I was working towards my psychology degree, I had to go to an elementary school to observe children playing and participating in an experiment. Despite my best efforts, the kids wouldn’t leave me alone and kept jumping on me,” says science editor Russell Moul. “At the time, I had long hair. I still remember leaving school and running my hand through my hair which was stuck together weirdly. When I pulled it out of my hair, it turned out to be a huge amount of partially dried snot from one of those little brats. It’s been 19 years, and I still vividly remember the feeling it gave me, both in my hair and in my hand“, he explains.

For his part, journalist Tom Hale remembers his terrible indigestion:

When my sister was about 12, she made coconut ice cream and made a cute little box to display it in. The box sat on his bedroom window sill for months, and one day I decided at the age of six to eat it…. I was sick for three days and still am today , I hate coconut“.

Result ? These accounts consolidate the hypothesis that disgust is linked to our three senses while “morally questionable” and “frightening” experiences are more often associated with sight and hearing.

Good in his body, good in his head!

Disgust helps us avoid dangers

Another observation made by researchers: disgust allows us to ward off certain threats. For example, we are used to considering the smell, taste and texture of a food – or even the noise made by a car.

These innate reflexes allow us to ward off dangers and thus preserve our health.

Disgust towards certain objects or foods can thus be “program“, explain the researchers, that is to say “conserved across species and development“.

For taste, the disgust reflex is observed in human neonates (only a few hours old), non-human primates, and many other mammals (e.g. rats, cats, and ferrets), indicating that detection of bitterness/toxin threats may be present with minimal learning“, they say in conclusion.