Museum of Science, Boston


What do children think is disgusting?

Many different objects and situations can be classified as “disgusting” by adults, but do children think the same kinds of things are disgusting? The purpose of this study is to investigate children’s beliefs about what causes disgust and other emotions.

In this study, children (ages 4-9) participate in creating a story. We introduce a character and then ask children to make up a situation that makes the character feel a certain emotion (happy, angry, disgusted, “grossed out,” etc). For example, we may start a story about a boy named Davie. Then we’ll say, “Something happened to Davie that made him feel very grossed out. What happened that made Davie feel that way?” Children can invent any situation they want in order to finish the story.

We are interested in children’s descriptions of the situations that cause each type of emotion, and whether they make up different types of situations for similar emotions, like “disgusted,” “grossed out,” and “yucky.”

This research will help us understand how children learn about emotions and their causes, and when they start to differentiate between similar emotions.

Learn about other research related to Children's Understanding of Emotion.

This research is conducted by the Emotion Development Lab at Boston College

Try it at the Museum

Creepy crawlies

Take a look at the Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches in the Discovery Center.

How would you describe these animals? Are you “grossed out” or “disgusted”, or do you feel a different emotion? Are you interested or surprised? Do you have the same reaction as someone else (like a family member or friend)?

Try it at Home

Emotion words

There are many different words to describe similar emotions: from happy to ecstatic, surprised to perplexed, scared to terrified. How many different words can you think of for different kinds of emotions? What kinds of situations would make you feel each emotion?


Make up a character and invent a story about them. What kinds of situations would make the character happy, sad, or angry? How would the character show his or her emotions? What would the other people in the story do next?