Disgust Sensitivity and the Neurophysiology of Left- Right Political Orientations

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Public Library of Science

Disgust has been described as the most primitive and central of emotions. Thus, it is not surprising that it shapes behaviors in a variety of organisms and in a variety of contexts—including homo sapien politics. People who believe they would be bothered by a range of hypothetical disgusting situations display an increased likelihood of displaying right-of-center rather than left-of-center political orientations. Given its primal nature and essential value in avoiding pathogens disgust likely has an effect even without registering in conscious beliefs. In this article, we demonstrate that individuals with marked involuntary physiological responses to disgusting images, such as of a man eating a large mouthful of writhing worms, are more likely to self-identify as conservative and, especially, to oppose gay marriage than are individuals with more muted physiological responses to the same images. This relationship holds even when controlling for the degree to which respondents believe themselves to be disgust sensitive and suggests that people’s physiological predispositions help to shape their political orientations.

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Smith, Kevin B., Oxley, Douglas, Hibbing, Matthew V., et al.. "Disgust Sensitivity and the Neurophysiology of Left- Right Political Orientations." PLoS One, 6, no. 10 (2011) Public Library of Science: e25552. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0025552.

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