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The Politics of Disgust

Liberal or conservative - The disgust test

Would you describe yourself as left wing or right wing? According to recent research the way your brain responds to images of disgust can predict your political leanings with a phenomenal degree of accuracy

Neuropsychologists at Virginia University conducted an experiment where people were shown a range of images that triggered disgust, such as, flies on meat, a man eating worms and excrement in a toilet. They measured their brains’ response to these images using an MRI scan. Amazingly, on the basis of the response to one picture they were able to predict peoples’ political persuasion with 94% accuracy. This accuracy rate went up to 98% when the response to more pictures was included. The stronger the reaction of disgust the more likely that the person was a conservative.

Disgust is probably one of our most visceral emotions. Actually, like all of our emotions, it is our brain’s way of taking care of us. From an evolutionary point of view it makes good sense for us to stay well clear of rotting meat or decaying bodies – they could make us sick. So, the disgust emotion makes us keep our distance. In ancient times when we lived in small groups it would also be sensible to be wary of other groups of people – they may be carrying disease or other harmful infections.

Our political beliefs shape our views on family, relationships, education and foreign ‘others’. Science now seems to be telling us that our complex political thinking appears to rest on a basic subconscious neural foundation which controls how our body responds to environmental threats. So, in the world of politics we should be wary of trusting our first knee-jerk response – we still have our minds and we can still change them. Think, don’t just react!

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