Can sniffing a sticky stained organic tote bag that has seen one too many trips to Whole Foods turn you into the kind of activist that haunts street corners and says, “Excuse me, sir. Do you have a minute for snail darter rights?” Science says it might.
No, I’m only kidding. Disgust makes people conservatives, not progressives. So says Thomas Adams, Patrick Stewart, and John Blanchar in their peer-reviewed “Disgust and the Politics of Sex: Exposure to a Disgusting Odorant Increases Politically Conservative Views on Sex and Decreases Support for Gay Marriage” in PLOS One.
These fellows found folks on the Internet, promising to pay volunteers ten bucks American if they’d come in and fill out questionnaires. Fifty-seven mostly white Christians came. Thirty of the volunteers, 21 one of which were women, in groups of 4 to 8, went into a room sized precisely “10’x10’x17.5′” and answered queries. The other 27, only 9 of which were women, went into the same room and answered the same questions, but the researchers stank up the room beforehand with butyric acid. Think cheesy pinto beans and too much beer.
To make the questions scientific, the researchers gave them names: the Three Domains of Disgust Scale, the Conservative Liberal Scale, the Wilson-Patterson short-response format. Scores were assigned to the answers with the full knowledge that if there weren’t scores, the study wouldn’t be publishable, not to mention you can’t get wee p-values from scoreless questions.
Each volunteer was asked “to select a number ranging from 0 ‘Not at all’ to 8 ‘Very much so’ to indicate the degree to which they currently felt ‘disgusted, nauseated, repulsed.'”
To be properly scientific, each volunteer who said he was disgusted-nauseated-repulsed to the tune of, say, 6 had to be just as disgusted-nauseated-repulsed as every other volunteer who answered 6. It wouldn’t do that one person’s 6 was another’s 4. Was that the case here? And is it true that stepping from a disgusted-nauseated-repulsed of 3 to a disgusted-nauseated-repulsed of 4 is the same as moving from a 4 to 5 and so on?
Hey. Asking questions like these slows the flow of Science. What are you, some kind of Philistine?
That’s why it was perfectly legitimate to ask four more questions about gay “marriage” on a scale from 1 (“strongly agree”) to 5 (“strongly disagree”), such as, “I should be allowed to marry whomever I want to, even if it is a member of the same sex” and “Same sex marriage should be legalized nationwide.”
The differences in means of the scores of those questions gave wee p-values. The stink-free group, which was, do not forget, predominately women, had smaller means, i.e. were more in favor of abandoning tradition.
The amazed researchers said “that the disgust odor induction caused attitudes to literally shift to the right”, i.e. to shift answers to higher numbers.
Did you catch it? Caused. The stinky room caused the people to turn conservative. Caused. How? “When disgust is evoked, the behavioral immune system engages avoidance to prevent infection…and appears to moralize sexual conduct in ways that underlie conservative values of purity and sanctity.” If this is true, then Los Angeles and other smelly pollution-choked cities should be solidly conservative.
Funny that every survey I checked (e.g., here and here) shows women far ahead of men in support of same-sex “marriage.” So could the two-thirds versus one-thirds women in the stink and stink-free groups account for the results? Here’s what the authors say:
Disgust has an important, causal relationship with political attitudes concerning sexual conduct. 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. Rejection of gay marriage was a particularly strong response to the disgust-inducing odor, perhaps because of the connection between homosexuality and perceptions of sexual impurity.
Women? What women? But look at those results. The authors could have ran with alternate headline: Exposure to Farts Causes Increase in Belief of Biblical Truths. The authors say, “The finding that belief in Biblical truth was greater among participants in the disgust odor condition was unexpected but is nonetheless consistent with previous work showing a relation between disgust and scrupulosity or being careful to avoid doing wrong.”
I’ve pointed out many times that academics are amazed people disagree with them, and they are always seeking to discover how this could be. Must be genetic, or biological, or due to stressors in the environment. It couldn’t be that citizens came to the reasoned conclusion that progressivism is sorely lacking. Nah. It must instead be that smelling a fart can turn you into a Bible-believing Republican.
Update: The Press
Incidentally, this “research” was widely picked up in the media. The Daily Mail reported “Can a disgusting smell make you conservative and homophobic? Researchers find stench of sweat and rancid butter can influence our views.”
The Huffington Post said “Smelly Environment Can Increase Homophobic, Politically Conservative Views According To Study“.
Many other places repeated (what I am assuming was) the same press release, but notice that most translated the authors’ “Decreases Support for Gay Marriage” into “Increase Homophobia.” The politicization of Science does not only happen in climatology.