Why is the internet going crazy for videos of pimples popping, cysts exploding and stomach-churning ingrown hairs?
University of Queensland PhD candidate James Sherlock says humans have always had an appetite for the gruesome – and there are several factors that contribute to the fascination.
“What horror movies and pimple popping videos allow us to do is expose ourselves to stimuli that are highly arousing: eliciting specific physiological responses in preparation for a response to something that we have evolved to strongly dislike.
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“In the case of horror movies, our brains tell us the bogeyman on screen is a threat and our body prepares to leap out of the seat and flee by flushing blood into our muscles and increasing respiration.
“In similar fashion, when we watch a surgeon expertly extract a big gooey blackhead from the nose of a patient, our disgust responses is engaged – albeit in a diluted format; we’re not actually in any danger, but our brain still rewards us with a little thrill.”
“these videos have triggered one of the most ancient and widespread of human emotions”
If you’re becoming worried about your mental health after reading this article, Mr Sherlock reassures that the popularity of such videos is not due to enjoying seeing others in pain. Indeed he says the mild disgust response elicited from most videos – somewhere in between making viewers ill or bored – guarantees and explains their large audiences.
But what does it mean if you’re one of those people who can’t stand to watch it all?
“Pimple popping videos, while enormously popular, are highly divisive,” Mr Sherlock says.
“They are reflective of an individual’s disgust sensitivity – the degree to which your behavioural immune system is activated by exposure to cues of disease.
“How we satisfied this curiosity has changed from the extreme – for instance public executions – to more benign forms such as television shows in which contestants eat bugs for the chance of a cash prize,” he says.
“In the case of pimple popping, by tapping into disgust these videos have triggered one of the most ancient and widespread of human emotions.”