Graphic online videos of popped pimples and hardcore teeth cleaning are wildly popular, so you’re far from alone. That should offer some comfort, but at the same time, it does seem odd that you and so many others should choose to watch, and even enjoy, videos that most of us would agree are disgusting. Humans evolved to avoid disgusting material; it’s a natural defence mechanism to protect us from infection and contamination. So what’s going on?

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Psychologists suggest you may be displaying a form of morbid curiosity and taking an interest in disgusting material as a way to learn how to avoid it. More specifically, they posit that the appeal of pimple and teeth videos is similar to horror – essentially you get to practise experiencing an intense emotion (in this case disgust rather than fear) at a safe distance.

Supporting this interpretation, researchers at the University of Graz recently scanned volunteers’ brains while they watched pimple-popping videos. Fans of the videos showed greater activity in the front of their brains and less deactivation of pleasure-related brain areas, as compared with non-fans, and they experienced less disgust. What’s more, the pimple-popping enthusiasts, while describing themselves as generally just as prone to disgust as the others, also reported being better able to control their disgust reactions.

For you and others like you, then, these videos seem to offer a satisfying opportunity to practise your impressive disgust regulation skills.

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Authors

Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.

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