According to a recent study out of Virginia Tech, a team of scientists have found that the way a person responds to disgusting images can reveal their political leanings.
Maggots, rotting carcasses, gross gunk in the kitchen sink – all these were used in the research, and the results were pretty astonishing.
“Disgusting images generate neural responses that are highly predictive of political orientation even when those neural responses don’t correspond with an individual’s conscious reaction to the images,” said Read Montague, a Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute professor who led the study. “Remarkably, we found that the brain’s response to a single disgusting image was enough to predict an individual’s political ideology.”
Participants in the study were shown images such as filthy toilets and rotting animal carcasses, mixed with both neutral and pleasant images like beautiful landscapes and babies.
After viewing the images, the subjects took part in a political ideology questionnaire, asking about how often they discuss politics and how they felt about topics such as church-state separation and gay marriage.
From the Roanoke Star:
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, scientists from the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute – in collaboration with researchers from University College London, Rice University, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and Yale University – recorded brain activity of the subjects responding to the images.
Responses to disgusting images could predict, with 95 percent to 98 percent accuracy, how a person would answer questions on the political survey.
The results suggest political ideologies are mapped onto established neural responses that may have served to protect our ancestors against environmental threats, Montague said. Those neural responses could be passed down family lines – it’s likely that disgust reactions are inherited.
“We pursued this research because previous work in a twin registry showed that political ideology – literally the degree to which someone is liberal or conservative – was highly heritable, almost as heritable as height,” Montague added.
Montague noted that conservatives tend to have more magnified responses to disgusting images – but the reason is still a mystery.
“Genetics predetermines height – but not fully,” Montague said. “Nutrition, sleep, and starvation can all change someone’s ultimate height. But tall people’s children tend to be tall, and that’s a kind of starting point. If we can begin to understand that some automatic reactions to political issues may be simply that – reactions – then we might take the temperature down a bit in the current boiler of political discourse.”
Researchers at the University of Nebraska conducted a similar experiment in which they:
“showed liberals and conservatives pleasant (cute rabbit, beach ball) and unpleasant (crashed car, person getting beaten) pictures and followed their eye movements. Conservatives tended to spend more time focusing on the negative images and became more physiologically aroused by them, while liberals focused on the more positive images. The researchers suggest that this is in line with conservative and liberal politics whereby conservatives are focused on protection from threats, and liberals focus on a positive future.”
According to Psychology Today:
“Another line of research has examined personality differences in liberals and conservatives. Liberals are found to be more empathic, compassionate (i.e., “bleeding hearts”) and open to experiences, while conservatives tend to be more concerned with order and preserving the existing social structure.”
University of Nebraska