Some of us can’t handle the sight of insects; others are sensitive to smells. Whatever causes you fear or disgust is actually working to improve your health. In fact, every time you recoil in disgust, you’re actively using your behavioral immune system.
What is the behavioral immune system?
By now, you should be aware your body has an immune system. It is what fights off germs and ensures we don’t get sick. Before our immune system goes to work we use what’s called the behavioral immune system, which is our primary defense to illness.
When we fear something, like that spider in the shower, or find something repulsive – think vomit, or anything gross looking – that is our body’s way of avoiding a potential threat. We know that if we go near it, or touch it, we could potentially get ill and so we avoid it altogether.
By using the five senses – touch, smell, sound, taste and sight – we determine if something is safe or a risk to our bodies. This method of determining health risks is effective because it requires little energy. And beyond our reaction, our body isn’t affected for it to happen. For example, if you’re walking down the sidewalk and someone didn’t pick up after their dog, the smell and sight of the feces will deter you from going near it. Just from that simple reaction you’ve avoided potentially harmful bacteria.
The notion of the behavioral immune system has been recently studied by British Columbia University.
How our behavioral immune system affects us
Besides determining what’s safe and what can make us sick, the behavioral immune system can also aid in decision-making.
One example was uncovered by the University of Glasgow. Researchers found women with a stronger fear of insects were more likely to marry men with deeper voices and who physically appeared more masculine.
Another report by West Virginia University found the behavioral immune system could affect how people vote. Individuals with a higher level of disgust were more likely to vote Right-wing.
And the University of Tranava, in Slovenia, found among 100 individuals, those who had the highest fear of insects, and were easily disgusted, had overall better health.
Behavioral immune system as a means of illness prevention
As you can see, our bodies have unique ways to keep us healthy. The behavioral immune system is our first line of defense against illness. And yet all of this goes on without you even realizing it.
If up until now you’ve been teased for your fear of spiders, just know what you’re a healthy individual and your body is working extra-hard to keep you that way!
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