Why We Can't Stop Watching Disgusting Videos

From disturbing sexual videos to clips of brutal ISIS beheadings, all sorts of disgusting content is available online -- and much of it goes viral. But why do we feel compelled to watch -- and share -- things that we know will upset us?

On Thursday, HuffPost Live's Nancy Redd got the scoop from Bridget Rubenking. The University of Central Florida professor conducted a study that sought to learn more about disgust by measuring the physiological responses of 130 undergraduate students who had watched unsettling movie scenes.

What did the study show? The popularity of repugnant content may lie in the fact that it's hard to forget. In Rubenking's study, she explained, participants had a better memory of disgusting images and scenes that came after them than scenes they saw before the unnerving content.

"Disgust actually acted like a cognitive interrupt. You forgot what you saw before that because the disgusting stuff became the only salient thing in that message," Rubenking explained.

Coupled with that is "the urge and the need to tell someone else" about what you've seen, said Know Your Meme editor Brad Kim, who appeared on the HuffPost Live segment along with Rubenking. 

"To borrow the words of the Internet axiom, 'What has been seen cannot be unseen. But what has not yet been seen but [is] discouraged to see, must be seen,'" Kim said. "This is kind of the underlying psychology that drives people to say, 'Oh yeah, I want to see and I want to know how disgusted I can get.'" 

And there actually is a cognitive benefit to watching and sharing extreme content.

"Part of that can be explained by inherently being humans and wanting to learn from what is disgusting, so you don't become the disgusting dead body or you don't eat the wrong thing," Rubenking said. "There is something very cool and social about disgust responses that we don't see in regards to all different types of memes."

Find out more about the science of disgust in the video above.

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