Conservative Political views

How disgusting do you find this image of researcher John Hibbing eating worms? The answer may say something about your political leanings.
Credit: John Hibbing, PLoS ONE

Most people would likely avert their eyes when passing by a man with a mouth full of writhing worms, or, say, the sight of a pile of excrement. But some are more disgusted than others, and new research suggests those individuals who respond with a more intense "yuck" are more likely to hold conservative political views and specifically are more likely to oppose same-sex marriage.

"This is one more piece of evidence that we, quite literally, have gut feelings about politics, " said study researcher Kevin Smith, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "Our political attitudes and behaviors are reflected in our biology."

For instance, a study by Cornell University's David Pizarro and his colleagues found that those people who scored high on the so-called disgust sensitivity scale tended to hold more politically conservative views. The findings, reported in 2009 in the journal Cognition & Emotion, relied on participants' reported level of disgust linked to various scenarios.

And a 2008 study by scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) found that people who are highly responsive to threatening images were likely to support defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism and the Iraq War.

That's gross!

The new study takes this link a step further by looking for actual physiological evidence of disgust and whether the evidence is linked to political leaning.

For the study, Smith, UNL political scientist John Hibbing and their colleagues selected 50 individuals from a random sample in order to have an equal number of people who were politically right- and left-leaning, as well as those who avoided politics altogether. Participants had an average age of 41, split fairly evenly between males and females, and had an average annual income between $40, 000 and $60, 000.

As the participants looked at a series of 38 images that ranged from pleasant to unpleasant, their skin conductance was measured, which is a gauge of the level of activation of the sympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that activates the automatic "fight or flight" response in surprising situations.

Five of the images had been rated as "disgusting" by an independent group, and included: a man in the process of eating a mouthful of writhing worms; a horribly emaciated but alive body; human excrement floating in a toilet; a bloody wound; and an open sore with maggots in it. [Read: The 10 Most Diabolical and Disgusting Parasites]

The participants also answered questions to gauge their political views. The results showed, as predicted, that those who indicated conservative political views responded to the icky pictures with much more intense disgust than did liberals.

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