It’s so Moist! Word Aversion and the Brain

I don’t know about you guys, but I have hated the word ‘moist’ since I was in 8th grade. Recently, episodes of “How I Met Your Mother”, “Family Guy” and the like have made references to a general dislike for the word, and as time has gone by, I’ve found that many of my friends share the same, seemingly irrational reaction. Well, as it turns out, moist is one of the most popularly hated words in the English language, and word aversion is growing into a subject of some interest in the scientific community as a result. (see the link below)

Naturally, linguists and cognitive psychologists have expressed the greatest interest in the subject, but as I’ve recently discovered, there is almost nothing in “the literature” that focuses exclusively on why people dislike these words, how the words are organized in thought, or the connections (physical or not) made with these seemingly harmless words to make them so detestable. Personally, I would be very interested in looking at brain activity and activation when people are confronted with these words as stimuli. Is there a single area of the brain that lights up? Does that area vary greatly or rather little? It the aversion due to phonological/phonemic connection or memory or both? I feel as though many of the words I’ve heard friends mention as anecdotal evidence for word aversion are disliked based on their phonological similarity to unpleasant or tabu ideas such as sex, bodily functions, and similarly culturally unacceptable concepts. That being said, perhaps the same area of the brain that receives activation when an individual is presented with words such as “sex” or “vagina” or “intestine” would receive activation when the individuals hears/sees “moist” “dank” and similarly disliked words.  The difference between these groups, of course, is that the meanings of the first group may evoke an uncomfortable image or idea, whereas some characteristic supposedly independent of meaning, evoke the concepts, terms, or even possibly meanings of those words in the first group. What are some of the possible biological mechanisms at work behind word aversion and how could we go about investigating them?



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