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The politics of disgust: Reactions of shock predict voting habits
by Brooks Hays
Washington (UPI) Oct 29, 2014

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

If anything, you'd think disgust would be one thing the average voter -- both Democrats and Republicans -- had in common. But a new study suggests how a person reacts to a single disgusting image can reveal the person's political leanings, either liberal or conservative.

Researchers at Virginia Tech came to their conclusion after showing disgusting imagery while participants brain activity was recorded using functional magnetic resonance imagery, or an fMRI machine. After the images were collected, researchers compared the results to each participant's political persuasions, as measured by a test called the Wilson Patterson inventory. Their analysis -- aided by computer modeling -- found a predictable relationship between the fMRI images and the political survey results.

"A single disgusting image was sufficient to predict each subject's political orientation," study author P. Read Montague, a researcher at Virginia Tech, said in a press release. "I haven't seen such clean predictive results in any other functional imaging experiments in our lab or others."

Montague says the study doesn't mean politics are entirely heritable. Ideological leanings can be influenced by a number cultural and socio-economic factors, he admits. But understanding political leaning as at least partly inherited, might help us better understand our fellow citizens.

"If we can begin to see that some 'knee-jerk' 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," he added.

The research, which was detailed this week in the science journal Current Biology, builds on previous studies that have come to similar conclusions. A 2011 study that looked a skin conductivity as a measurement of disgust found those who identified as politically conservative were more likely to be disgusted by icky images. Another study found jurors who felt disgust and anger towards graphic imagery presented in trial were more likely to be convinced of a person's guilt.

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