Partisan Identification

Reaction to Mutilated Animal Imagery Accurately Predicts Political Leanings

Born this way?



One of the most fascinating things about political ideology is that it's likely much more genetic than most people realize. Of course "nurture" matters, but there's strong evidence that people are also born with certain features and personality traits that predispose them toward leaning liberal, conservative, or libertarian. A new study suggests that unconscious reactions to a single "disgusting image" can reliably predict whether someone identifies as liberal or conservative. 

The study, published in the most recent issue of Current Biology, relied on brain scans of people shown a series of gross, pleasant, and neutral images. Researcher P. Read Montague, a Virginia Tech professor and head of the school's Human Neuroimaging Lab, said he was inspired by research showing political affiliation is highly heritable and how one identifies politically has deep connections to biology, especially the way our bodies respond to threats of "contamination" or violence.

The brain scans revealed that, indeed, the way one's neurons fired in response to gross-out imagery was a pretty damn good indication of whether one identified as liberal or conservative. While responses to the pleasant and neutral images were predictive of nothing, responses to an image of a mutilated animal body were split neatly down political lines.

"A single disgusting image was sufficient to predict each subject's political orientation," said Montague. "I haven't seen such clean predictive results in any other functional imaging experiments in our lab or others." The results "suggest that important foundational parts of political attitudes ride on top of preestablished neural responses," he said.

Self-reported responses to the imagery were not an accurate predictor of political persuasion. 

"These results provide strong support for the idea that fundamental neural processing differences that emerge under the challenge of emotionally evocative stimuli may serve to structure political beliefs in ways formerly unappreciated," the researchers concluded. 

Ronald Bailey has written here previously about research showing political conservatives are more easily grossed out. Other research has shown that those with low sensitivity to disgust tend to be liberals or libertarians. 

h/t Mark Sletten

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  1. Elizabeth you never give the payoff here. Okay, so the reactions are predictors of political leanings. So how does each side respond? That is the interesting part.

    My guess is that liberals respond strongly because they are more effected by individual cases of harm and thus more likely to support doing something to stop it. Just a guess.

    1. I was literally seconds away from making the same request.

      Bailey’s previous articles mentioned in the last paragraph make clear that Liberals are less disgusted.

      1. Interesting. I would have thought the opposite. I wonder why that is.

        1. Totally counter to what I would have guessed, too.

          I suppose one could argue that conservatives tend to be more comfortable with the familiar than liberals, who tend to enjoy things that are different, whehter it is culinary, artistically, aesthetically, culturally. That plays off of stereotypes, but maybe there is something to it.

          1. Great! Now I can serve my liberal friends a bowl of rice with ants crawling all over it and if they don’t eat it I can out them as the closet conservatives they are.

          2. I think you are trying to polish a turd LynchPin. Could be that Progs are just social deviants who tend toward the sadistic and the macabre.

        2. Yeah, this particular study only said that certain neural responses were seen strictly in conservatives and other responses in liberals, but not what those neural responses mean:

          conservative group membership was predicted by increases in the basal ganglia/thalamus/periaqueductal gray /hippocampus/amygdala, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, presupplementary motor area, fusiform gyrus…. and so on. That probably makes sense to someone, but not me.

          1. But what about the medulla oblongata?

          2. Elizabeth, I doubt the people who did the study know what that means. They just found a correlation between politics and activity in certain parts of the brain and nothing more.

            1. Conclusions will be drawn, stereotypes will be reinforced…

            2. The people who did the study certainly know which images are considered disgusting and which lit up those areas of the brain. They don’t have to know exactly what’s doing what to see that.

            3. Also, the SUBJECTIVE ratings given by respondents showed no significant difference, and were virtually identical based-on presented data. So, while scans showed activity in various areas – the respondents indications of whether they found images disgusting don’t correspond with those results.

          3. But what separated Libertarians and Liberals?

            1. Spot the Liberaltarian!

            2. Typically in tests like this, I believe the answer is “nothing”

              1. I thought the answer was “what’s a libertarian?”

          4. This would be a general description of an involuntary or fight-or-flight pathway. Generally speaking, the amygdala is firing off emotional distress to prime the motor cortex, and check memories. The prefrontal cortex is getting involved to calm things down.
            /no neuroscientist

          5. According to the abstract, the patterns were detected by machine learning. That would be a heuristic process similar to that used for cluster analysis, i.e. finding patterns when you have no preconceived notion of what patterns are there.

          6. It says a bit more than just that there is a difference. Although not definitive proof, generally, a stronger measurable neural response to a stimulus means that someone’s behavior would be more influenced by it, and that is the assumption that underlies a lot of this discussion.

            Now, if you accept that premise, what does a heightened response to disgusting stimuli mean? You might interpret that as an overly emotional and irrational response.

            But you can also look at it differently. What does a diminished response to images of disease and sickness mean? Probably a lack of empathy and compassion.

            Another useful question to ask is what the extreme forms of these responses would look like. Excessive responses to disgusting imagery would likely be a phobia. Complete absence of responses to disgusting imagery would likely be dangerously anti-social.

          7. How does this study relate to genes or genetics as is claimed in the first sentence?

        3. Yeah, there’s a lot of previous research showing liberals and libertarians are less easily disgusted than conservatives, but this study didn’t necessarily spell out less or more disgust, just unconscious neural reactions. I think the increased activity in conservative in certain brain regions is taken to mean “More disgust,” but I also know the dangers of reading too much into brain scan activity…

          1. So then why are liberals offended by catcalling?

          2. I’d be curious to see a variation on the experiment that played with the “sympathy” element — Say, whether the results with a picture of a guy eating worms differed from the results with a picture of the infamous Joe Theisman broken leg incident.

          3. Elizabeth Nolan Brown|10.30.14 @ 3:58PM|#
            “Yeah, there’s a lot of previous research showing liberals and libertarians are less easily disgusted than conservatives,”…

            How are these labels defined?

            1. And who makes the determination of what is and is not disgusting?

              1. Or rather, how is that determination made?

        4. I also would have guessed that liberals were the more easily grossed out. I would certainly guess that libertarians would react less strongly in disgust to images, but maybe that’s just a bias I develop here. Perhaps there still is something in common between liberals and libertarians.

          My personal theory would be that more liberals would be libertarians if they would just think things through more. A lot of self-professed liberals do seem to genuinely believe that they are for individual rights and freedom.

          1. I’m always skeptical of that becuase it is so flattering of libertarians. Beware of flattery. Every side thinks they are the smart ones.

            1. Actually, don’t take me too literally there. I definitely agree that everyone likes to believe that they are much more rational than they are.

              I still do think that libertarians are probably smarter as a group than other more common political identities. Not because we have all the right answers (which I would argue we do, but that’s just me), but because few are really libertarians by default. Most have to seek it out in some way or other. Of course you could put that down to a tendency toward individualism rather than intelligence.
              It is a big mistake to assume that people who disagree with you must be stupid or deficient in some way. There are very smart people who believe all sorts of ridiculous things.

              1. It could also come from the inspection required after being constantly challenged as to the nature of your political philosophy. It might not be that they’re any smarter, but that they have actually thought about their beliefs and positions, trying to be more objective than the average person.

          2. We are. You’re just for the words, not the reality.

            1. No you aren’t. You yourself have come on here many times and said that you don’t even believe that rights exist.

              1. Not correct. I believe they exist, but as abstract human inventions, and as such must be enforced to have practical use. I’m not even sure what the alternative to that is. Nobody ever says except some variation of “God says so.”

                1. You sort of almost have a point. But one might equally say that your side has no support for your view of rights besides “might makes right”.

                  1. Not liking the implications is not the same as it not being true. Luckily for us we have centuries of western liberal tradition to reduce the need for actual might to enforce these ideas.

                    1. So the threat of force is forgivable as long as there’s no force actually used? It’s fascinating how your brain works…

                      Also, I didn’t know that being “for rights” meant violating them at every turn that they’re inconvenient to the goal.

                    2. The threat of force (enforcement) is the only way I’m aware of to maintain a civil society. What’s the alternative?

                      I just don’t believe in claiming some rights are inherent to nature, first because that’s nonsense and second because every king or tyrant always claims that his preferred form of society is required by God or nature. Much of what libertarians want to do to society I strongly oppose, and I’m not going to go along with it just because you give yourself cosmic brownie points.

                    3. Threats of force and even use of force is fine as long as you don’t initiate it. You had to talk around the point because you want to initiate force all of the time against people who “have too much” or are “unfair”.

                      Rights don’t come from nature, you’re right. They come from God. You don’t like that logic but that’s OK (most libertarians would likely disagree anyhow). It shouldn’t matter where they come from as long as we respect others by not initiating force against others. I have no idea where you think rights come from nor what you even mean by the term.

                    4. So all manner of force is OK as long as it’s reactionary? Or is it more complex than that? You will fall into the trap of simply defining things you don’t like as force, justifying reaction. Take trespassing. Is that really initiating force, and is shooting the trespasser really merely reacting? Or do you just define them that way because you like property laws?

                      Ah, God has entered and does what He does best: stops the conversation. Yeah, not good enough, and I have no reason to take your word for what God believes over someone else’s. Unless you can convince me why.

                    5. Yes, “force is OK as long as it is reactionary”. And, yes, there is a specific set of things we “like” to protect, including private property. You got the essence of what libertarianism is about. These are non-negotiable for us. Some people think they come from God, others (like me) think they are just good common sense.

                      Now what was your point again?

                    6. So all manner of force is OK as long as it’s reactionary?

                      A good question, though not quite on topic. Many libertarians don’t understand justice as they might. If someone takes your stuff, you can demand it back with interest. If they take your eye, then they owe you an eye.

                      You will fall into the trap of simply defining things you don’t like as force

                      No, force is force. Words are not force, neither is thought. Rape, murder, assault, theft, and all of govt action, is force.

                      Take trespassing. Is that really initiating force

                      Yes, no less than if I were to walk on your car or your face.

                      is shooting the trespasser really merely reacting?

                      Yes, and if you don’t like it, don’t trespass on land where the owner likes shooting people. I don’t think it’s right to shoot them in most cases, but it is the owner’s right to do so (yes, I just used the word 2 different ways in the same sentence).

                      Ah, God has entered and does what He does best: stops the conversation.

                      If you choose to stop there. I didn’t initiate force on you! I also let it stand that it doesn’t really matter in these discussions where rights (liberties) come from.

                      I have no reason to take your word for what God believes over someone else’s.

                      I fear that if you cannot understand the simplicity of “do unto others” that it would be a waste of time.

                    7. Tony|10.30.14 @ 5:16PM|#

                      The threat of force (enforcement) is the only way I’m aware of to maintain a civil society. What’s the alternative?

                      That’s because you assume that the majority of everyone else is the same kind of lying, thieving, miserable reprobate that you are.

                    8. Western liberalism is not what you think it is.

                      What you represent is modern liberalism, which is called “liberalism” only in the USA and Canada. Modern liberalism is just a euphemism for progressivism, which has been around only about one century–not centuries. Unless you want to trace your ism back to Rousseau, Thoreau, and Marx/Engels, of course.

                    9. It could probably be traced all the way back to Plato’s Republic – which, of course, is nothing to commend it.

          3. Images that are “disgusting” generally are related to suffering and disease. Having a strong emotional response to those (and that is what the neural imaging suggests) is generally a good thing: that kind of reaction the basis of empathy and compassion.

          4. My personal theory would be that more liberals would be libertarians if they would just think things through more. A lot of self-professed liberals do seem to genuinely believe that they are for individual rights and freedom.

            That is the exact opposite to what I have experienced with every single person I’ve met who self-identifies as liberal or progressive.

            Conservatives, even those most hated SNOCONEZZZZ!!!!!!!! are far more easily persuaded with an unqualified individual rights/freedom argument than liberals/progressives are, in my experience. In fact, I’ve found lib/progs almost completely unreceptive to that line of argumentation, and never persuaded. Perhaps I’m not very persuasive, but the experiences of fellow travelers seems to support mine. So, it seems pretty easy to conclude that it isn’t the messaging (or messenger), but the message itself that is actually unappealing to lib/progs.

            Also, it is both dangerous and incredibly narcissistic to think that people would think the way you think if only “they thought things through.” It’s the sort of self-absorbed thinking that Obama displays. While many (most?) conservatives and liberal/progressives seem to have arrived at their beliefs through osmosis and social momentum, plenty of them came to the conclusions they have through careful consideration. That doesn’t mean they aren’t wrong, but that doesn’t mean thought didn’t go into their wrongness.

            1. I wonder if it has to do with the fact that redistribution of income/welfare/programs to help the poor all have to come with the implicit idea that the poor cannot help themselves.

              So, we need to provide for them. As if they were children. And you definitely need to be able to tell children what to do and what not to do.

              Sure let the kid play with his toys, but when it comes to serious stuff, well the state knows best.

          5. Progs becoming Libertarian? They would have to abandon all their core philosophical beliefs. So yea that’s close.

        5. The disgusting images were of men missing so…

          1. Kissing. This new phone is killing me. Yesterday it changed germaphobe to hermaphrodite.

    2. Conservatives want the data spoon fed to them. Liberals prefer to make up their own data. Libertarians don’t care because the research is flawed in some fundamental way.

      1. This particular libertarian thinks that the money spent on researching any kind of psychological indication that correlates to political affiliation should instead be spent on hookers and beer. Well, that or like cancer or kids who don’t read so good or something like that.

      2. And we could do our own experiment by showing them a picture of STEVE SMITH in full on hiker-rape mode and then gauge their reactions…or just callously laugh.

        1. I read that as “gauge their erections” and knew once and for all that I am a genetic libertarian.

            1. And I read “club” as chub.

              1. Now you’re in Agile Cyborg’s club.

              2. It’s gettin’ a little gay around here.

                *grasps shirt collar uncomfortably*

                1. Just tell that voice in your head that you are definitely definitely not gay.

      3. Revulsion to disgusting things is probably a marker for enhanced survival.

    3. Ronald Bailey has written here previously about research showing political conservatives are more easily grossed out. Other research has shown that those with low sensitivity to disgust tend to be liberals or libertarians.

      1. And then there’s Episiarch / Sugarfree

        1. I think SugarFree hardens us…I mean, how can you not read that stuff and laugh at ordinary attempts to “disturb”?????

    4. There’s a link to the actual article. Conservatives react more strongly than liberals for about the first 14 seconds, at which points the responses have converged.

      1. Heck, a still image would have to be mighty interesting for everyone’s brain not to register total boredom after 14 sec.

        1. Some people have longer attention spans than others.

      2. Perhaps the liberal is more open-minded in thinking of what it actually is, etc.

        Is that a dead dog? ewww gross.


        A dead dog! so gross!

    5. Liberals respond less strongly to disgusting imagery because they’re used to living in their own filth, which they say brings you closer to Gaia.

      1. You’re thinking of old people.

        Libertarians seem to react more closely to liberals in these studies, so make of that what you will.

        Now that I have taken all of the fun out of yet another joke…

        1. Libertarians are used to seeing weird things, always being high on drugs and all…

        2. You’re thinking of old people.

          Hippies? Yeah, most of them are pretty old by now.

    6. The abstract doesn’t state it, and the article is a little obscure in doing so, though it bears out as the citation to Bailey’s articles indicates — Conservatives are supposedly more easily grossed out.

      I have to wonder, though, how to reconcile that to the likely conservative leanings of the population of active hunters and fishermen who dress their own game. Are we to assume that, say, Ted Nugent is more grossed out when he guts a deer than Nancy Pelosi would be?

      1. I immediately went to hunting as well. But then I thought of a kid I was in college with. Very conservative, from NEPA, hunted. But always ate PBJ, Oreos, and milk for lunch. We went to a Thai restaurant one time. First time most of us had ever been. Very nice, authentic atmosphere with people dressed in traditional garb and seated on the floor. A lot of people took the opportunity to try something new and different. This guy got the “chicken wings”, which were not what he was expecting. He was grumpy and barely ate anything the entire time. Wouldn’t even give it a chance.

        1. Anecdotally, I notice more political leanings being exposed by willingness to experiment with food as well. My wife, who is most definitely conservative, has a very limited palate and doesn’t like to stray outside of it. I, on the other hand, will eat almost anything.

          All of it is generalizations and therefore suspect anyway.

          1. I see this reflected in my family vs. my wife’s family. But I’ve opened my parents up to new things, and they tend to like them.

            But as you say, I’d be loathe to draw any type of firm conclusions from it.

          2. Can I take it you’re fat & she’s skinny?

        2. This guy got the “chicken wings”, which were not what he was expecting. He was grumpy and barely ate anything the entire time. Wouldn’t even give it a chance

          People like that fill me with the rage of 1,000 burning suns. Don’t know why, but once you get past the age of 3 that kind of behavior just grates on my nerves.

          1. Agreed, as does requesting a fork at a Chinese restaurant.

            1. I eat with chopsticks when that is what I have available, but come on, forks are just better.

            2. Being open to the food doesn’t mean I have to use a thoroughly inferior means of getting it to my mouth just because the fuckers who came up with it were too stupid to invent a fucking fork.

              And yeah, while I really like Ethopian food, I absolutely, positively refuse to eat at “communal” tables with every filthy potentially diseased asshole slobbering all over his booger hooks and then stuffing them into a bowl of food I’m interested in. Exception to that rule are only made on the “I’m sticking my fun stick into this girl later” rule of food sanitation.

          2. Me too. My folks were always conservative and I was the one in trouble because I wanted to try different foods. My mom thought putting Kraft parmesan cheese on spaghetti was far out and adventurous.

            1. What did she put on spaghetti?

              1. Canned tomatoes. And hamburger meat shaped into meatballs. Salt and pepper.

          3. I’m one of those people, though I tend to be kind of self-conscious about it, due to my perception that there are a lot of people out there like yourself that I’m pissing off somehow.

            I can understand being annoyed by grumpy people who feel entitled to be accommodated, whether it’s in wanting bland food or demanding to know whether the bamboo shoots are “fair trade”. If it’s any consolation, my limited palate isn’t meant as a value judgment against the more adventurous. Just ease up on the hate and leave me in peace with my “chicken wings”.

            1. I’m sorry but if you only eat two or three things there is something wrong with you. Do you order chicken wings everywhere you go, all the time? Because I know people who do that sort of thing and it weirds me out. One guy I knew from a previous job would always order a chicken sandwich on lunch/dinner runs; he wanted just the bun and always put a shit ton of mayo on it. Gross.

          4. Maybe you should calm down. Getting enraged about somebody else’s narrow food tolerance seems like a giant waste of time. Maybe you need some therapy.

        3. My mother is very left. She hates to eat anything foreign, unless its bland.

          I really don’t think this is based on political behavior but where you grew up.

          Also, if you eat very bland food, any amount of spice will be painful.

          My wife is from Asia but somehow loves bland food considers garlic and pepper as “very spicy.”

      2. I would imagine that there is some distinction to be made between “leave me alone” conservatives and “I want my country back” conservatives (to make another huge generalization).

    7. “My guess is that liberals respond strongly…”

      Maybe I missed something, but even after re-reading it, it looks to me like the conservatives are the ones reacting strongly to “threats of contamination or violence”.

      Gay people freak them out?

      –fear of contamination.

      Threat of violence?

      –Gun rights.

      Did somebody else read this differently?

      1. That’s what I figured too. As unsophisticated as the conservative instincts are, it’ll probably serve someone better if the shit hits the fan. Whereas tolerance and diversity is more useful for being popular in an urban community, not as much for living in the wild and knowing whether an animal is OK to eat.

        1. I would think that not being disgusted by stuff would be an advantage in figuring out whether an animal is OK eat to eat.

          Would you eat wiggling, slimy insect larvae?

          Ant larvae kinda taste like spicy custard, in case you were wondering. At least the way my wife makes them.

          1. I’d eat that, no problem.

          2. Perhaps it’s a balance and that explains why differing levels of disgust have evolved. Disgust helps you avoid disease but too much and you avoid perfectly good sources of protein.

            1. Wimpy conservatives.

          3. Actually, being disgusted by stuff is generally a good thing the closer to nature you are: it keeps you out of trouble.

            Disgust is, in many ways, a learned behavior anyway, so as far as food is concerned, a bit of parental teaching generally overcomes that quickly. Many of the foods humans eat as adults would be disgusting if you hadn’t become accustomed to them as a child.

          4. “Ant larvae kinda taste like spicy custard….”

            I looked at your picture and for some reason immediately thought of very spicy Thai food.

            Aren’t the larvae dead by that time?

        2. Like I said below, it almost seems like a fight or flight response.

          Conservatives seem to want to fight these threats, and liberals seem to go into more of a flight mode.

          I’m sure there are other factors, too.

          I understand if you like getting into fist fights, there’s still no place better than Boston to do so. If the locals still consider themselves Democrats when they get their Irish up, that probably has nothing to do with those tests. There are a lot of culturally conservative Irish people in Boston, I’m sure, who would never dream of voting for anyone but a Democrat.

      2. EXcept anti-vax and anti-GMO are also related to fear of contamination.

        I’m not so convinced that liberals are super open minded.

        My mother goes berserk when she sees poor people smoking.

  2. I will just leave this here……html?rh=1

    1. Doesn’t at all surprise me. Some of the most viciously violent people I’ve ever heard of are often those who preach the non-violence crap.

  3. “Other research has shown that those with low sensitivity to disgust tend to be liberals or libertarians.”

    What separates the liberals from the libertarians?

    Is it IQ?

    1. RACIST!!!

    2. And what about Conservative Republican/Libertarians (like me)?

      1. Three points:

        1) Almost nobody starts out libertarian.

        It’s something I had to strain to learn about–before the interwebs anyway.

        You may be evolving.

        2) The disgust portion was only half of the test. The other part was how you react to threats of violence.

        To me, that’s like a fight or flight response. It wouldn’t surprise me if liberals tend towards flight and conservatives trend towards fight.

        You could be a libertarian on the disgust test and fight (rather than flight) on the threat of violence test.

        3) The test could be horseshit. …especially for people more attracted to reason–people who can rationalize their disgust responses probably react differently to threats of contamination.

        1. 1) Almost nobody starts out libertarian.

          Perhaps…or perhaps they just don’t know that’s what it’s called.

      1. I take issue with that “five foundations of morality”.

        “five different moral foundations: harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity.”

        Libertarian morality is all about mutual consent. Only one half of one of those measurements even addresses that–reciprocity.

        I may not know for certain whether BDSM is always morally okay–even within the context of mutual consent–but I know that if there isn’t mutual consent, it’s always morally wrong.

        That’s about as libertarian as morality can be, and it doesn’t have much to do with any of those five moral attributes they tested–except reciprocity.

        Again, it isn’t that my moral judgement fails or passes any of those five attributes in the test–it’s that those five attributes don’t even engage the morality of the question from a libertarian perspective.

        You can’t scientifically measure something with an irrelevant yardstick. “Blue” or “red” is not the answer to the question, “How many miles is it from Los Angeles to San Diego?”

        1. My thoughts as well. It’s a great example of a forcing the data to meet a theory. At least in this case they realized the inadequacy of the original theory and tried to expand it. The better thing to do would be to collect responses to a variety of moral quandries and construct groups based on the trends that emerged.

          1. Here’s another example:

            As a libertarian, it is crystal clear to me that rape is morally wrong because the victim didn’t consent.

            Like I said, in their test, I’m going to score half a point out of five possible points for reciprocity with that observation.

            If a lot of non-libertarians believe that rape is wrong because morality is like a popularity contest and most people think rape is wrong? Or if a lot of other non-libertarians believe rape is morally wrong because all the authorities agree that rape is wrong?

            …Their moral sense of right and wrong is going to show up on that test as stronger than mine because rape failed three or four out of five of those attributes on their morality test–and I only scored half a point!

            Meanwhile, I don’t need a moral popularity contest or a consensus of moral authorities to figure out that rape is wrong. If there were a moral popularity contest tomorrow, and most people agreed that rape was morally okay, I’d still think it was morally wrong for libertarian reasons. If the moral authorities all came out tomorrow and told us that rape was morally okay, I’d still say that rape was wrong…

            And yet I’m the one failing the morality test?

          2. Agree with both Lynch and Ken.

            1. Lynchin’ kin are the worst kind.

    3. My guess is that liberals have other kinds of neurosis, that don’t involve disgust or fear of contamination. My observation is they tend to be more easily depressed and angry. They are more anxious. Think Woody Allen.

      Libertarians are less likely to suffer negative emotions. They (we?) are a bit like The Dude in The Big Lebowski.

      1. Libertarians are less likely to suffer negative emotions. They (we?) are a bit like The Dude in The Big Lebowski.

        While I love His Dudeness, I’m more like Walter.

        When I see some cop flagrantly violating the law I tend to react like this:

        There are Rules.

  4. Nice blog post. The concept of disgust as it relates to political opinions is an interesting one. I’m not surprised by the results at all, either. The best author of the past generation was a former Reagan-ite who used disgust as a political statement in his books, even though he generally became more liberal as he aged, per accounts.

    1. even though he generally became more liberal as he aged

      Wait…here’s what I wonder. If political ideological affiliation* is so genetically predisposed, then how and why do people change their political affiliations? And why would the phenomenon of changing one’s political affiliation be so common? Does the answer lie in epigenetics?

      *Arguendo, let’s not get into the fact that the labels we use for ideological affiliation are relative and arbitrary. Indeed, only in our crazy, modern world is an ideology known as ‘National Socialism’ considered to be ‘right-wing’.

      1. Fears change as you age. And since what you fear seems to be the primary motivator for political alignment…

        Just a supposition

        1. Could be. Could be.

          From a quick scan of the article, I think the study suffers from the fact that a.) they seem to define liberal/conservative almost solely on the social axis, and b.) all the participants in the study were shoe-horned into “conservative”, “moderate”, or “liberal”. David Nolan must be turning in his grave over that.

          1. I think it would be more informative to determine which groups engaged higher reasoning functions when presented with a disturbing image. To some extent, everyone has an emotional trigger, be it bugs, child abuse, human refuse, whatever… To me, the important part is once you the initial reaction has occurred, how does the brain cope with it in the longer term?

            For example, my son’s genetic aberration prevents him from shutting down his adrenaline response with any ease. He is prone to fight or flight reactions that are off the charts. The reaction will occur. To me, how he copes with it and rationalizes his response will be the determining factors in his personality (and politics).

            Reason (2nd order response) over gut (1st order response)

            1. I agree wholeheartedly.

              If we can find a way to better operationalize political ideology as a construct, then it’s on like Donkey Kong.

            2. Some relationship between fear and courage.

      2. I think that’s where this article is flawed. Just because liberals and conservatives react with different parts of their brains doesn’t mean they were born that way.

        1. In other words: correlation is not causation.

      3. The actual conscious political identity is not hardcoded (obviously), but the subconscious responses that lead you to be a certain persuasion may be. However, the relative power of each response could adjust with age (growing cynical is a good example). It could also be that your subconscious responses benchmark you to one point on the spectrum, but the parties shift out from under you at an imperceptible pace.

        1. I think we essentially said the same thing (see below) in radically different ways.

      4. Great question. I don’t know, but I also don’t know how one can discuss it without the arguendo part. If one believes a problem so important that it must be solved, then one might adopt a whole host of measures to do so. None other than a classical liberal like Clare Boothe Luce once intoned that environmental problems were the most pressing issue facing us and also — by her own logic — concluded that the only solutions were anti-democratic, which seemed to cause her pain. It was an issue she brought up in the ’70s on Firing Line. She might not have been too incorrect when one thinks about agencies like the EPA. Some things, like survival and disgust, are pre-political, IMO, and while likely a good predictor of political opinions, still must be personally negotiated within the political conditions in which one operates.

      5. Our political labels are so screwed up today that I am truly unable to tell what the hell people mean when they use the term conservative, liberal, or even libertarian. Further, Right-wing and left-wing are almost meaningless without the second axis found in the Nolan Chart.

        1. That’s a good point.

      6. Another factor to consider is that the political affiliations people adopt are about social interaction as much as actual beliefs about things. It’s a lot like religion. People tend to believe the things that their parents or their broader communities believe. Very few people carefully consider the merits of all of the options before choosing a religion or a political party to associate with.

      7. I also wonder how supposed genetic predisposition intersects with sibling ranking as it relates to politics (firstborn generally predisposed to conservatism, as an example) and the political flips in a given ethnicity (blacks to the Dem party or to a lesser degree Irish to Republican party). Seems like if genetics is the greatest determinant of political affiliation, then there would be less change over time or between those of similar inheritance.

        1. I think my comment above is relevant here. Political party affiliation has more to do with social signaling than actual ideology. That doesn’t say much about why siblings might diverge politically, but I think it has a lot to do with how certain groups can rapidly switch political affiliations.

      8. There is no reason to assume that it is genetic or epigenetic just because you can measure it in the brain.

        What people find disgusting or acceptable is in large part determined by upbringing and culture.

  5. , but there’s strong evidence that people are also born with certain features and personality traits that predispose them toward leaning liberal, conservative, or libertarian.

    What I take away from this is that within 20 years, modern eugenicists will once again be actively trying to breed out disfavored political leanings.

    1. Probably. And my guess is that the “disfavored political leanings” will be similar to those that were disfavored by the last century’s eugenicists and progressives.

  6. If it’s this easy to detect political leanings we should use this test to screen out non-Libertarians from voting or holding positions of authority.

    1. The problem is that most who seem to think that they’re libertarians have no concept of the nature of rights (ie: positive vs. negative)…those “libertarians” in positions of authority who would not succumb to the urge to “do-something” are a small fraction of the movement.

      1. I don’t agree with your first statement, and even if it’s true a little education will fix it.

    2. If it’s this easy to detect political leanings we should use this test to screen out non-Libertarians from voting or holding positions of authority.

      Except those who would advocate that would also have to be considered non-libertarian. So who would that leave?

  7. After the fMRI session, participants completed a behavioral rating session in which they rated all pictures they had seen in the scanner (using a nine-point Likert scale) as disgusting, threatening, or pleasant. Lastly, participants filled out computer-based questionnaires assessing their political attitudes, disgust sensitivity, and state/trait anxiety level.

    Lotta moving parts there.

    1. Although the article stipulated that self reported ratings of pictures did NOT correlate with liberal or conservative, only the brain scans.

  8. The heritability aspect is interesting. The field of ‘epigenetics’ is adding a whole new dimension to our previous understanding of genetics and inheritance. It’s not just the Mendelian Punnet Square anymore. Non-sequence changes in DNA such as methylation can profoundly alter phenotype, and inheritance can follow bizarre patterns. The methylation patter can be changed in a heritable way by stress or a chemical at the right time in gestation. It was an incredible presentation.

    1. With the epigenetic angle, I could see someone thinking “when I was cold and hungry, I believed ‘X’; now that I am warm and well-fed (and can attract a mate) I believe ‘Y'”; which may predispose the child to Y. Or vice versa.

    2. I am fascinated by epigenetics.

      1. Recommend any good books on it?

        1. I recommend a presentation on it by Dr. Michael Skinner, but this will have to do because I can’t find it.

          When you have time Elizabeth I recommend. In sum, this guy exposes rats to a high concentration of an anti-fungal chemical (at a concentration you’ll never see). Rats are unaffected for two generations, and then things get weird. The mice get obesity, low sperm count, and ovary cysts out of nowhere. Which is interesting because these are the EXACT traits we see in North America out of nowhere.

          The inheritance was more bizarre. Only passed down the paternal side and any inbreeding at all killed the traits. It turns out this was a result of changes in inherited DNA methylation patters, and ANY stress can do this. Even cold temperature during fertilization caused a plant to change its methylation pattern for hundreds of generations. The only stress not tested was pathogens, but I’m sure that can do it to.

          It is plausible that recent phenomena we see such as obesity, ovary cysts, even autism could be a result of methylation changes induced generation ago by lead, DDT, or even war. That’s speculation, but it’s not crazy anymore.

      2. I dig all the latest research in the ‘paleo’ circles about pregnancy nutrition and offspring obesity

    3. This isn’t exactly anything new. We’ve called baldness genetic forever, yet a guy who is bald at 45 wasn’t bald at 25. So something can be genetic and change as you age.

      Disclaimer: I am completely talking out of my ass and know nothing about genetics; I’m just saying that it shouldn’t be shocking that behavioral genetics can kick in later in the same way as baldness or prostate cancer.

  9. Well, define a “disgusting image.” Are we talking about a gutted deer? In which case I would expect conservatives (who are more likely to be hunters, yes?) to show less disgust than liberal PETA members. Or are we talking about 2 girls 1 cup? In which case I would hope everyone is disgusted or else there’s something wrong with you.

    1. Or are we talking about 2 girls 1 cup? In which case I would hope everyone is disgusted or else there’s something wrong with you.

      *looks up*
      I never said there wasn’t.
      *shrugs and returns to fapping*

    2. The study talks about innate response. Just because a deer hunter keeps their shit together, doesn’t mean nicking the stomach with their hunting knife doesn’t cause an internal reaction.

      1. I don’t see where the study talks about “innate” response. Even if it did, there would be no way of concluding that from the data they looked at.

  10. I’m guessing this study was as sloppy as the last. Here’s a statistician’s breakdown.

  11. I wonder what a for-profit company would study, given the same amount of money, trained researchers and equipment that were devoted to this quackery.

  12. Liberals should be better able to tolerate disgust, considering how many of them hang out in dorms or communes, wallowing in their own filth, and how many of them have a toddler-like fascination with their own bowel movements and the “sustainablity” of their shit.

    1. You know who else is able to tolerate filth without a disgust reaction?


      Apes and monkeys.

      Nice company you’re keeping, liberals!

      1. I think dogs are in the conservative camp. They’re easily excited and often racist.

        1. As much as it pains me, I have to admit there was wit. Tony actually composed a bon mot.

        2. It isn’t that they’re racist – it’s just that they have a highly developed sense of smell and most don’t like strange odors. Some dogs are easily excited and some are much more laid back…depending on a number of things such as sex, breed, size, how and by whom they were raised – a combination of nature and nurture. Of course, I’m referring here only to the four-legged variety.

      2. What you or I think of as filth is not necessarily the same for dogs and other animals. There are lots of things people eat at which a dog would turn up his nose. Whose to say the dog is not disgusted? Besides which, dogs are well known for their puking.

    2. This was more or less my interpretation, above.

    3. Yeah, and libertarians are just Republicans who want to smoke pot, conservatives like to kill delicious animals and Catholics like to bang little boys. So everyone should be able to tolerate disgust.

  13. It just another step from a progressive trying to figure your what’s wrong with the brains of people who don’t agree with them. Clearly they must have a defect because they fail to discover the correct answers.

    1. If that’s the goal, the study may have backfired. Personally, I think that if you don’t have a strong response to an image of a mutilated animal carcass, there is something wrong with you.

  14. the problem with these types of studies is that they are used as some form of proof that one side or the other is mentally deficient and therefore their opinions should not be listened to just as an adult would not listen to the advice of a three year old. I’v seen just such statements made by the left many times on Huf post per some clearly biased scientific finding.

    1. Just because the studies are misused doesn’t make the study wrong or bad.

  15. I’m pretty squeamish and come from a long line of Republicans. I really think I have a conservative-oriented brain and came to my political views intellectually. Or maybe I have a normal amount of squeamishness for a liberal and conservatives have even more. Their anti-gay views seem to be informed by a ridiculously knee-jerk reaction to whatever it is they’re envisioning in their heads when they think of the subject (lesbians don’t seem to bother them too much).

    Though like everything in life this is probably a continuum, we can simplify it into two different evolutionary strategies, and maybe we can see which one better handles the modern world. A “conservative” disgust reaction in the wild avoids pathogens better but leads to unhelpful bigotries in the modern world. A “liberal” with more of a tolerance for gross things is by extension more open to novel ideas–not always a winner in nature (but perhaps sometimes a bonanza), but necessary for a modern pluralistic world.

    1. “I really think I have a conservative-oriented brain and came to my political views intellectually.”

      I’ve never seen you come to anything intellectually.


      And I mean that.

      I’ve see you for years, now. You’re impervious to reason.

      I’d suggest you try another theory, but I doubt you’re capable of trying any theory, really. You believe what you believe for the same reason that butterflies fly south for the winter.

      1. Have you ever even read a book that didn’t confirm what you already believed? I read Atlas Shrugged. Every single word. I may be impervious to worn-over conservative horseshit, but it’s not for lack of exposure to it.

        1. Tony|10.30.14 @ 4:46PM|#
          …”I read Atlas Shrugged. Every single word”…

          Shame you didn’t understand one single word.

          1. No no, it’s a damn shame you think it matters.

        2. “Have you ever even read a book that didn’t confirm what you already believed?”

          Well I did read this, and it changed my mind.

          1. Maybe you should read it Tony.

        3. I read Atlas Shrugged. Every single word. I may be impervious to worn-over conservative horseshit, but it’s not for lack of exposure to it.

          If you got “conservative” out of Atlas Shrugged, you’re either not very bright or not very well read and educated – or both. The moral and political philosophy – even the epistemology – expressed in that novel is in direct contrast to society’s prevailing views in such matters over the last five or six thousand years of recorded history. If anything, it’s extremely radical – not conservative.

    2. Openness to something disgusting makes you generally more open? Where did that come from? People who are more squeamish about hurtful images are somehow less open in a way necessary for a modern pluralistic world?

      This is called fitting facts into your world view.

      And….please, please, please never, ever, ever suggest again you came to your views ‘intellectually’. I’m squeamish as I am more on the conservative side, and it makes me nauseated.

      1. I was just going by the established reality that conservatives are by definition less open to change. That’s the thing everyone is discussing here.

        Well, it didn’t really take much intellectual work to be honest. See, conservatives in this country don’t believe in science if science says oil is in any way remotely bad for the environment, and they say I don’t deserve 14th amendment rights because Jesus. Really, not much consideration required at all.

        1. Tony you are the least “Scientific” poster on this board. Philosophy is learned through experience, not inherited genetically.

        2. I know a lot of conservatives. Some of them are scientists.

          Tony, you put a caricature in your head then debate yourself, and you ‘win’ every time. Not many people don’t believe in science.

          On the other hand, I like many of my conservative friends tend to take statements that begin with ‘science says….’ with a grain of salt.

          1. The thing about science is it’s easily verifiable if what “science says” is actually what evidence suggests is true. It remains true that half of the political establishment in this country doesn’t accept the evidence of climate change (and they’re still pretty iffy on biology too). It makes the choice a no-brainer, so to speak.

  16. A “conservative” disgust reaction in the wild avoids pathogens better but leads to unhelpful bigotries in the modern world. A “liberal” with more of a tolerance for gross things is by extension more open to novel ideas–not always a winner in nature (but perhaps sometimes a bonanza), but necessary for a modern pluralistic world.

    In a social species, the winning strategy is to have both. The conservative ones keep the troop from getting completely wiped out, while the liberal ones allow the troop to benefit from new oppurtunities.

    1. So… pussies and assholes, just like South Park:BLU said.

  17. I highly recommend reading “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt. It goes into the science behind this sort of thing, and is one of those books that really deepened my understanding of human nature.

  18. I am often sickened when I see members of Congress, so what does that–OK, I just answered my own question.

  19. This is bullshit.

    Half of my siblings are asshole Democrats and the other half are asshole Republicans.

    They all think I’m an asshole Libertarian.

    I point out to them that the genetic part is that we are all assholes.

  20. I don’t buy it. Especially since libertarians and republican ideals are so closely aligned.

  21. The only correlation might be socially liberal or socially conservative. But there are no correltions to be made abouteceonomic opinions from this experiment.

    Yes it’s just another half-assed “scientist” thinking that politics are only about social issues and never economic ones. It deserves nothing but mockery.

  22. This is false, sorry. There is no such thing as “liberal” or “conservative” or “libertarian”. Political views are much more complex and individualized, and people vote for Democrats or Republicans because of pragmatism, not because they agree with all or even most of their policies.

    1. Psychologists have tests for political leanings that measure something. What they measure may not fully agree with political or economic usage of those terms, but they are not completely off the wall either.

  23. “The brain scans revealed that, indeed, the way one’s neurons fired in response to gross-out imagery was a pretty damn good indication of whether one identified as liberal or conservative.”

    So THAT explains why democrats are not immediately repulsed by Nancy Pelosi. Money well spent.

  24. How do you reconcile those findings with this?…..nservative

    Are the people behind that not really liberally, not really disgusted, or is the study flawed?

  25. Considering that people who self-identify as Conservative give about 3x as much to charities as those who self-identify as Liberal, and this is true across all socio-economic strata, and considering that Cons register higher in happiness surveys than Libs, women especially, and considering also that when Cons give they tend to give to boots on the ground charities, rather than the Opera Society, or the Symphony, which are nearly the exclusive domain of Liberals, (these, in my mind shouldn’t be charities), it is reasonable to think people who self-identify as Conservative are more compassionate and more empathetic than Liberals. Which would explain why they respond more strongly to ugly, hurtful images.

    In other words, socialist groups attract those who don’t care about others, and Conservative groups tend to attract those who do care about others. This, by the way, is my clear experience. Proggies hate people, and assume rich people are greedy because they themselves don’t care about others. It is inconceivable to them others might.

    My experience with those who self-identify as Libertarian, even though I tend to, is that the bulk of people I know who would call themselves Libertarian are really selfish. And, they tend to give nothing to anybody. But, that is not universally true. I do think there are some very selfish people in the Libertarian camp who see Libertarianism as the perfect excuse for their solipsistic point of view.

    1. By the way….when I say this is my experience above, I mean in general. My best friend is very caring and is very far left. Although he doesn’t believe in AGW, for example. And, he lives the way he talks. I know there are good people from both sides, but in general my left friends/acquaintances are pretty self-centered, bitter and hostile in all kinds of areas. My right wing friends much less so….in general.

      1. And, my comment about my experience with libertarians is just my experience. I’m not extrapolating anything across all Libertarians. And, to be a bit more precise it is more Ayn Rand followers whom I noticed were incredibly selfish. Not necessarily all my libertarian friends.

        1. Ayn Rand’s philosophy holds that selfishness is a virtue. Unfortunately some adherents, as well non-adherents, of her ethics fail to comprehend what she meant by that, or to distinguish between short term and long term self interest as well as between rational and irrational self interest. Her ideas state that values held by humans are hierarchically held – that is, some value some things more than they value other things, and differently perhaps than others might value them – and the basis for such should preferably be one’s own long term purpose in life and based on one’s perception of objective reality by means of reason, not someone else’s purpose or perception.

          I’ve always found Ambrose Bierce’s acerbic witticism about selfishness being a lack of regard for the selfishness of others to be acutely perceptive as well as entertaining.

          1. I don’t disagree with you. I was formerly involved with the TM organization, headed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. MMY also had a philosophy of selfishness, but in reference to a mystical super Self, over and above ego. He suggested one should be Selfish, as in go to experience this super Self. Many of his adherents took that and gave themselves license to be selfish in the mundane sense.

            The follower uses the wisdom of the leader and often converts it into a selfish tool to get more things from others with as little cost as possible.

            I know a woman who has read that what people think is a projection of who they are. She has some antisocial characteristics. When people get mad at her she says, ‘that’s just her seeing herself in me, and I’m not buying into it’, and goes about her merry way taking indiscriminately. There is something to the idea of projection, but to ignore everyone’s feedback to yourself, calling it all projection is absurd. The philosophy has some legitimate value, but it is being used incorrectly.

  26. The study I would like to see would involve having people look through the Gallery of Regrettable Food, and then see if they’re still wanting to continue living.

  27. IMO without a control group of starving people this “study” sounds like complete bunk to me. Also labels like “Conservative” and “Liberal” no longer have any meaning. There are just varying shades of Liberty, and authority.

    1. I don’t see starving people as being a control in any way. Maybe those who don’t vote?

  28. “IMO” scratch that. I used to have authoritarian friends who would post “studies” like this as, “PROOF” that the narrative of their political views are “correct” “kind” and “just”. It was Bullshit then, and it is Bullshit now.

  29. This is totally messed up and the response they are getting is the result of political marketing. Do you think members of PETA are going to be conservative? Do you really think a man who goes hunting with a gun is going to be liberal? Of course not! The only reason this comes about has to do with the way the political parties market themselves and ideas. You do not need a scientific experiment to push the case. It is all nurture, not nature, in this case.

    1. I know a hunter who kills two deer a year. He fires his rifle 3x. Once to set the scope, and one bullet each for each deer. He feeds his family for most of the year on these two kills.

      After he kills and cleans the deer he can’t eat for 3 days. And, he is saddened he killed the deer, but feels it is more ethical than buying a feed lot cow from the super market.

      I know some Peta people who would run over a child rather than run over a dog, faced with such a decision.

      1. Must say, the more you post the goofier you get. I’m beginning to lean toward bullshit on your posts.

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