Why you can’t help but look at the photo of Joyce Carol Oates’s foot rash

Joyce Carol Oates in 2018. Walter McBride/Getty Images
  • Joyce Carol Oates tweeted a cringe-worthy photo of her foot rash on Saturday.
  • People who probably wouldn’t want to see Oates’s blisters in person were quick to click on and share the image online.
  • Disgust is a powerful emotion evolved to keep us safe, and some people may be chasing the thrill that comes with grossing yourself out.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Joyce Carol Oates, the 82-year-old acclaimed author, took a walk in the woods wearing sandals this weekend and ended up with a puffy, blistering rash and a collection of oozing boils on her left foot.

She tweeted a photo, which you can view at here at your own risk. Consider yourself warned.

Even if you don’t truly want to see Oates’s foot, you still might feel compelled to click. So why do we seek out images that we know will cause us disgust? Insider spoke with a psychologist who specialises in disgust to find out.

Viewing a disgusting photo online lets you feel a strong emotion from a safe distance

There’s a difference between looking at something gross on your phone and seeking out the disgust in person, explained Alex Skolnick, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Saint Joseph’s University.

Viewing disgusting videos or images online gives people a way to satisfy their curiosity with the option of looking away, he said. The same people who clicked on that Twitter link might feel more threatened or anxious if they were up close and personal with Oates’s foot.

“If I said, ‘I want you to go into that room and look at Joyce Carol Oates’s foot,’ and then you’re in the presence of it, you can’t just look away. I’m sure most people would not do that,” Skolnick said.

While some people are so sensitive to disgust that they might cover their ears at the mere mention of pus-filled boils, others seek out the thrill that comes with feeling any strong emotion.

“Sometimes people want to experience a little bit of a powerful emotion, and then maybe that’s why they might click,” Skolnick said. Those are the same thrill-seekers who’d jump at the chance to watch a gory slasher film like “Hostel” or “Saw,” he added.

Humans evolved the emotion disgust for self-preservation

The main theory of why humans feel disgust says we evolved the emotion to keep ourselves safe from potential agents of disease.

“It’s really about keeping us safe from contagious elements in our environments, whether it be a person with a disease or we’re disgusted by garbage,” Skolnick said.

Humans have evolved to communicate their disgust with others to keep them safe from the source of revulsion as well, whether that’s with a grimace, or in modern times, a retweet.

Skin rashes and blisters are “the perfect signal” for our disgust sensors because they may signal potential underlying disease, Skolnick said.

From the evolutionary perspective, your instinctive revulsion at the foot photo is meant to protect you from contracting poison ivy or poison oak, or at the very least, serves as a reminder to wear proper footwear next time you’re walking in the woods.

Read more:

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