Published: Oct. 20, 2016
A child with a disgusted face

Stirring soup with a fly swatter sounds disgusting, but why do our brains think so?

Just in time for Halloween, teens are invited to get grossed out at an upcoming Teen Science Café at CU Boulder that explores the science of what happens in the brain to trigger reactions of disgust.

“Ewww Disgusting! The Evolution and Neuroscience of Getting Grossed Out” to be held Tuesday evening will include a lecture, touching and tasting stations, and other hands-on activities. Karli Carston, a research associate from the Institute of Cognitive Science, will dig into the topic of what’s gross and why. The event, run by CU Science Discovery, is free and open to teens ages 14 to 18. 

According to Carston, disgust is a biological mechanism that allows animals to avoid harmful toxins and pathogens, and also has a social, cultural and moral dimension.

Fall cafe schedule

Oct. 25, 5:30–7 p.m.

Ewww Disgusting! The Evolution and Neuroscience of Getting Grossed Out with Karli Carston, of the Institute of Cognitive Science, at CU Boulder’s Museum of Natural History lower level Biolounge. Registration is required. 

Nov. 16, 5:30–7 p.m.

Drugs, Beliefs and Medicine with Tor Wagner, Psychology and Neuroscience, at CU Boulder’s Museum of Natural History, BioLounge

Dec. 7, 5:30–7 p.m.

Science Speed Dating Teens’ Choice: The Physics of Ultra-cold Atoms with Catherine Klauss, Physics, JILA, at the JILA Particle Physics Laboratory

In humans, the expression of disgust is recognizable from the wrinkled nose and protruding tongue, and we use these signals to learn what sort of things to avoid. Thus, what is a delicacy in one culture can be disgusting to another. Social and moral disgust also serve to reinforce social norms. Disgust provides a foundation for human morality by providing the emotional impetus to avoid certain behaviors,” Carston explained.

The Teen Science Café is part of a national push to get more young people interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects. CU Science Discovery, a STEM education outreach program, started offering science cafés to Colorado teenagers in 2013 as a way for them to meet and interact with CU Boulder scientists in fun and informal settings.

“Teen Science Cafés provide a unique opportunity for teens to explore current STEM topics and interact with scientists and engineers in a relaxed social setting,” said Stacey Forsyth, director of CU Science Discovery. “Teens play an active role in managing the cafés, by selecting featured topics and scientists and designing cafe programs, and we try to expose students to topics they might not normally encounter in a traditional high school science class.”

Learn more about CU Science Discovery, Teen Science Café and upcoming events.