No matter how hard you try, it’s often difficult to cheer yourself up from a funk just by thinking happy thoughts. But making yourself disgusted—that’s easy.
Researchers had already identified the part of the brain that activates when we feel grossed out—the anterior insula and adjacent frontal operculum, or IFO. But a Dutch study has found that even reading or thinking about something disgusting can cause the same region of the brain to light up.
The scientists put their 12 subjects through several unpleasant experiences and watched their brains on fMRI images. The subjects had to endure foul-tasting quinine on their tongues, watch movies of other disgusted people, or read a section from a story full of rather rank and vivid imagery. We won’t print the bit of vile text that the test subjects had to read, but check it out here if you have a strong stomach.
All three activities activated the IFO, showing that our imaginations might be able to drum up as much disgust as something we see with our eyes. So if reading horror novels makes you a little sick to your stomach, now you know why—though be glad you won’t die of shock.