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Studies are showing that there is an odd correlation between the emotion of disgust, and the tendency to lean toward more conservative attitudes.

Crazy, right?

Not really. Not if you think about how the mind works.

The human response disgust is an emotion, yes, but its also a physiological response to something that you perceive as unwholesome or potentially poisonous.  Babies perceive bitter or sour tastes and make faces by sticking our their tongues and scrunching up their noses by the time they are able to take solid foods. We all make the same face to some varying degree.

This immediate disgust response is hard-wired into our DNA. Evolutionarily those things that disgust us are triggers to detect something poisonous or dangerous to consume. We have an immediate dislike for the thing and therefore don’t eat it, or touch it. By avoiding it (whatever it is) we seek to prevent infection and potential premature death. Evolutionarily speaking it works perfectly.

We build a catalog in our minds of things that trigger this response and avoid them. It’s healthy and smart to do this behavior. As we grow older the “catalog of ick” gets larger, and we begin to correlate things that disgust us with things that have become sullied or dirtied by proximity to those things that disgust us. We don’t think about why, we just do it.

For example, who hasn’t walked their dog and after cleaning up after the usual event  gone to wash your hands although no part of your skin actually touched anything unclean. Or a more personal example; I have a friend who keeps the cat litter box in his bathroom.  I would walk 6 blocks uphill in the snow to find a restroom instead of stepping foot into that room.  I’m certain it smells bad, but for me it’s not the smell. I’m one of those rare people who have no sense of smell.

So if it’s not the smell what is it? It’s the association, the proximity to the rank box of litter that I can’t bear to be near.

This is really disgust by association, a heuristic response. You were near something unclean and could have become contaminated so therefore you must clean up yourself to prevent any spread of the icky nasty contaminant.

Studies that evaluate a person’s sense of disgust, and to what degree one feels or experiences disgust have shown that the correlation of high incidence of disgust (or low threshold for disgust) and acting more conservatively appears regardless of age, gender, or any other demographic criteria. Simply put: Those that perceive a disgusting experience strongly are more likely to act to protect themselves and act more cautiously and conservatively.

This transfer of  disgust from an unclean or toxic agent to a clean one is vitally important because its being used against you.

No it’s not subliminal messaging, or subtle product placement, it’s overt and you see it every day.

A study performed recently indicated that respondents who were reminded to wash their hands after visiting the restroom were 60% more likely to vote more conservatively than those who were not reminded. The study used issues or situational incidents, not actual candidates or party platforms to prevent preexisting biases from queering the results. One sample question raised slightly taboo issues, like the idea of a young man watching his grandmother’s house while she was on vacation, his girlfriends comes over and they sleep together in grandma’s bed.

The mere presence of a hand sanitizer unit swayed voters too. The reminder that icky stuff is out there in the world and that you might want to clean your hands to keep you safe from germs was enough to trigger a protective and more conservative viewpoint.

Don’t believe me? You’re on the internet.  Look it up.

Watch the dirt slinging ads that predominate the airwaves this electoral season, and notice how often unclean things are connected to the issues that the liberals support and the conservative platform would crush. The ad producers are attempting to use your tendency to distance yourself from things that you may consider unclean, and associating those feelings of disgust with other unrelated actions to nudge you into a more conservative stance.

Oh, and it doesn’t work the other way round. Disgust doesn’t correlate with liberal viewpoints in the same manner. So either liberals aren’t as easily disgusted, or maybe they’re like me and all have no sense of smell, but either way their heuristic brain isn’t necessarily driving their voting decisions.

Which reminds me. I’m presently disgusted with my neighbor, and my reaction is NOT conservative in nature. But that’s another blog post that must wait until I can calmly discuss the issue without foul language. Let’s just say Margaret Cho would say “fuck you!”

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