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SciShow Psych tackles the science behind what might be one of the most hated words in the English language: moist.

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Moist. Moist. mOIst. moiST.

If you're uncomfortable with me saying “moist” so much, congratulations: you're one of the 10-20% of people who find the word revolting. Psychologists call that disagreeable feeling word aversion, where seemingly innocent words trigger our disgust. And while it might seem silly to spend time wondering why moist makes us cringe, it's not.

What we find disgusting can be a big part of who we are. Researchers have linked the targets of our disgust and how strongly we feel the emotion to everything from whether we choose to be vegetarian to our political leanings. Even our senses of morality and justice are intrinsically tied to what we find disgusting.

It's a powerful emotion. When you feel disgusted by something, your heart rate slows, you might get a little nauseated, and you tend to withdraw or even recoil from whatever offended you. The “yuck” feeling is also written all over your face.

Like other basic emotions — happiness and anger, for example — the facial expression of disgust is universal. It's an emotion that all humans evolved to show the same way. Biologists think disgust evolved to help protect us from disease, which makes sense when you consider what tends to disgust us: Bodily fluids, rotten foods, slimy things, and even bugs can be packed with dangerous microbes just looking for a way into our deliciously vulnerable bodies.

Since we want to keep that grossness away from us, we're naturally inclined to do things that make our lives more hygienic, like keep our toilets away from our kitchens. And it pays off: studies have shown that people who are easily disgusted are less likely to catch an infectious disease. But if disgust is meant to protect us, why is the word “moist” so disgusting?

A word can't harbor bacteria or pass along a parasite. It has a lot to do with how much time we spend around other people. We humans are social creatures, which is nice, but it's also a great way to spread disease.

Since our interactions with others affect our risk of infection, it wasn't too much of a stretch for our brains to co-opt disgust for social contexts — including the language we use. Which brings us back to moist. Moist.

People hate that word so much that psychologists have done some pretty specific research trying to figure out why. In a paper published in the journal PLoS ONE in 2016, researchers identified three main ways that “moist” could trigger disgust, and ran a series of experiments with hundreds of participants each to figure out which of those three made “moist” so repulsive. I'm so sorry to the 10-20% of you.

I'm not even done, either. The first possibility is that “moist” is just gross to say — whether because of what the word sounds like, or because of the shape your face makes when you say it. That's what people who found the word moist disgusting seemed to think — about half of them connected their revulsion to the way it sounds.

Moist. That, like, OY and then the SSST ... sounds unpleasant, kind of, right? Moi-oyst.

But oddly enough, people who had no problem with moist didn't think it was the sound that sets people off. They were much more likely to think the word's connotation was its most disgusting trait. The team also wondered if the disgust had to do with the shape of our faces made when we say the word, because some researchers think the connection between our emotions and facial expressions is a two-way street.

When we feel emotions, our faces contort accordingly, but the reverse could also be true: if we smile or frown, that could make us happy or sad. And think about how your lips move in the last part of the word moist: “oist.” It's kind of like similar to the iconic “bleargh” like that face. Ueaghh.

Moist. The problem is, if our disgust comes from the sound of the word or the face we make when we say it, you'd expect similar words to also trigger revulsion. But the researchers didn't find strong evidence for that.

People who cringed at “moist” were more sensitive to words like “foist” and “rejoiced”, but they didn't make the test subjects viscerally ill in the same way moist did. So if it's not the word itself, then it must be something we associate with it. And that's the second possible reason the researchers looked into: whether people hate the word “moist” because it's associated with other disgusting things.

They found that moist-averse people rated words like phlegm, puke, and vomit more negatively, suggesting that they associate it with bodily functions. But they also found evidence for a third reason: that the distaste left behind by saying “moist” comes from cultural influences, rather than something about the word itself. In one of the experiments, subjects either watched a super-cringey video of people trying to say “moist” in a sexy way, a neutral video that kept talking about moist cake, or no video at all.

People who saw the cringey video suddenly found the word more disgusting, and compared to the other participants, they said they used it less often. Based on the results of all their experiments, the researchers concluded that moist's “ew” factor comes from both its connection to bodily fluids and the fact that others are grossed out by it. In the end, it may not really matter if moist or other “gross” words like crevice or panties bother you.

But studies like this one help psychologists learn more about what triggers disgust, which is important because it's connected to how we think about other people. Avoiding things that might get you sick in a social context isn't that simple, and it's influenced by our experiences and the culture we live in. For example, people can be disgusted by things that would otherwise seem random because of negative childhood experiences or because they've been told they should be disgusted by them.

So disgust can help mold individual values and biases. And there are times we might want to fight back against our automatic responses. Avoiding people who are sick could mean we're sort of programmed to push people away when they need us most.

And the urge to avoid the sick can go too far and end up stigmatizing people with certain illnesses or who otherwise don't look perfectly healthy. Plus, disgust doesn't stop with visible signs of sickness. We might instinctively want to avoid unfamiliar groups because our brains think they could expose us to diseases our immune systems aren't equipped to fight — even if that's not actually true.

Which can reinforce tribalism and all kinds of other problems. And those are just some of the ways disgust can drive our manners and social norms, or affect our senses of morality and justice. Bet you didn't think we were going to go here in a video about the word moist.

A big part of psychology aims to understand how basic emotions influence our thoughts and behaviors. And it turns out our disgust with the word “moist” can tell us a lot about ourselves. Thanks for making it through this entire episode of SciShow Psych despite the number of times.

I said “moist”. It was so many times. If you're interested in learning more weird things about our brains, boy do we have a lot of episodes already in this not very long time that we've been making SciShow Psych.

You can go to and subscribe. Thank you to all of you who have already done that. We have loved watching this channel grow. [♪♩OUTRO].