Maggots Gross You Out? You Could Be a Conservative

Would you believe that our brain's response to disgusting images can tell whether we're a Republican or Democrat?

I didn't say disgusting images of Republicans (sorry, all you conservatives out there!), but apparently, a new study has found, how much your brain responds to pictures of maggot infestations, rotting carcasses, unidentifiable gunk in the kitchen sink, could predict whether you are liberal or conservative.

 Say what? 

An international team of scientists led by Virginia Tech reports that the strength of a person’s reaction to repulsive images can forecast their political ideology, according to newswise.com.

“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,” the Web site quotes 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.”

In a brain scanner, participants were shown disgusting images, such as dirty toilets or mutilated carcasses, mixed with neutral and pleasant images, such as landscapes and babies.
Afterward, the subjects took a standard political ideology inventory, answering questions about how often they discuss politics and whether they agreed or disagreed with hot-button topics such as school prayer and gay marriage.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, scientists recorded the 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.

Conservatives tend to have more magnified responses to disgusting images, but scientists don’t know exactly why, Montague said.

The responses could be a callback to the deep, adverse reactions primitive ancestors needed to avoid contamination and disease. To prevent unsavory consequences, they had to learn to separate the canteen from the latrine.

But some of these impulses may just be inherited, scientists say, like height or eye color.

So, vote on Election Day.  And let those ugly images just fade away . . .


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