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Disgusting odorant increases politically conservative views on sex, study shows

Posted May 7, 2014

Are conservative political attitudes driven by the feeling of disgust? Results of the recent study conducted by researchers from Arkansas University support positive answer to this question. Thomas G. Adams, Patrick A. Stewart and John C. Blanchar report experimental evidence which demonstrates that smell of disgusting odorant induces conservative stance regarding questions related to sexuality.

Picture: The Bitter Tonic. Author: Adrian Brouwer. Year: 1630‒1640. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Picture: The Bitter Tonic. Author: Adrian Brouwer. Year: 1630‒1640. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Previous research suggests that positive statistical relation between disgust‒sensitivity and traditionalist position on various socio-political questions exists. “Some have suggested that disgust is specifically related to conservative attitudes that pertain to social or moral purity and, in particular, sexual purity,“ the scholars add. However, most of the preceding studies were observational. Therefore they reveal only correlations, but do not provide us with the knowledge of causal relations. In order to fix this shortcoming Thomas G. Adams and his colleagues arranged an experiment.

“Ten minutes prior to participant arrival, an experimenter placed four drops of 99% butyric acid  on two small cotton pads and hid these pads at the front and back of the room. Pads were replaced and the room aerated between experimental groups,“ the psychologists explain. Participants were called upon to fulfill questionnaires, which assessed their opinion on various sociopolitical issues. For instance, they pointed out their position on such issues as free trade or gay marriage. In addition, respondents indicated their level of disgust.

“In an experiment manipulating odor-based disgust, participants exposed to the smell of butyric acid reported increased subjective disgust and more politically conservative attitudes concerning gay marriage, premarital sex, pornography, and Biblical truth,“ the scientists report. Especially strong effect was observed concerning the issue of same‒sex marriage. However, researchers did not detect significant changes regarding questions on non‒sexual matters.

But how these findings can be explained? According to one of the explanations, the feeling of disgust is related to the health issues. Interestingly, past research reveals a positive statistical relationship between a strong immune system and conservative stance. The authors of the article claim that results of their inquiry are consistent with theory delineated by Tybur and colleagues, who argue that disgust functions to decrease the occurrence (both in the self and society) of sexual behaviors that are perceived as increasing risk of pathogen transmission.

Article: Adams T.G., Stewart P.A., Blanchar J.C., 2014, Disgust and the Politics of Sex: Exposure to a Disgusting Odorant Increases Politically Conservative Views on Sex and Decreases Support for Gay Marriage. PLoSONE 9(5): e95572.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0095572, source link

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