The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘disgust’

Paul Bloom on Disgust

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 19, 2011

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Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Choice Myth, Ideology, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

“Yuck!” “EWW!” and Other Conservative Expressions

Posted by Adam Benforado on July 30, 2009

DisgustAs many readers of this blog know, a number of Situationist contributors are interested in the connections between ideology, psychology, and law.  Working with Jon Hanson, my most recent focus has been on understanding how the motivations underlying ideologies may be connected to attributional proclivities that have a profound impact on legal policies.

Given the strong backlash that often accompanies attempts to characterize ideology as anything but a free “choice,” I always get a little nervous when I see summaries of research studies in this area in the popular media.  However, it also often leaves me a little excited that these ideas might be gaining some traction.

Although I urge readers to check out the actual research paper in the June copy of Cognition and Emotion, here is a nice summary by Bruce Fellman I came across this morning of work by Paul Bloom and his colleagues.

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Pus, maggots, vomit, feces, rotten food: in almost every human society, people share a knee-jerk revulsion for certain substances. Now, Yale psychologist Paul Bloom and his colleagues have found that the level of disgust a person feels can predict his or her political orientation. In a word: “We found that conservatives are more easily disgusted than liberals.”

Using a standard political orientation scale and the Disgust Sensitivity Scale — also a standard psychological measuring tool, developed in 1994 to compare individuals’ reactions to such things as monkey meat, gore, and sex with animals — the researchers tested 181 adults across the country. They discovered a significant correlation between conservatism and strong feelings of being grossed out. The correlation also held among 91 Cornell undergraduates and was strongest when the political issues tested involved gay marriage or abortion. (The research appeared in June in Cognition and Emotion.)

Early in our evolution, disgust may have functioned as a way to ward us away from things that were bad to eat. Today it plays out in disagreements over policy. While Bloom finds disgust a “terribly corrosive emotion,” and wishes we could abandon it in favor of rationality, he feels there’s a risk in ignoring it. “Our findings reinforce the importance of the emotions in policy and morality. A lot of these issues are still driven by the gut.”

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To read some related Situationist posts, see “Unclean Hands” and “The Situation of Political Disposition” (which has links to still more related posts).

Posted in Abstracts, Ideology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Political Disposition

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 2, 2009

Public ToilietNicholas Kristof recently published a nice column, titled “Would You Slap Your Father? If So, You’re a Liberal,” discussing some of the situationist insights regarding the psychological antecdents of political inclination.   Here are some excerpts.

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If you want to tell whether someone is conservative or liberal, what are a couple of completely nonpolitical questions that will give a good clue?

How’s this: Would you be willing to slap your father in the face, with his permission, as part of a comedy skit?

And, second: Does it disgust you to touch the faucet in a public restroom?

Studies suggest that conservatives are more often distressed by actions that seem disrespectful of authority, such as slapping Dad. Liberals don’t worry as long as Dad has given permission.

Likewise, conservatives are more likely than liberals to sense contamination or perceive disgust. People who would be disgusted to find that they had accidentally sipped from an acquaintance’s drink are more likely to identify as conservatives.

The upshot is that liberals and conservatives don’t just think differently, they also feel differently. This may even be a result, in part, of divergent neural responses.

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The larger point is that liberals and conservatives often form judgments through flash intuitions that aren’t a result of a deliberative process. The crucial part of the brain for these judgments is the medial prefrontal cortex, which has more to do with moralizing than with rationality. If you damage your prefrontal cortex, your I.Q. may be unaffected, but you’ll have trouble harrumphing.

One of the main divides between left and right is the dependence on different moral values. For liberals, morality derives mostly from fairness and prevention of harm. For conservatives, morality also involves upholding authority and loyalty — and revulsion at disgust.

Some evolutionary psychologists believe that disgust emerged as a protective mechanism against health risks, like feces, spoiled food or corpses. Later, many societies came to apply the same emotion to social “threats.” Humans appear to be the only species that registers disgust, which is why a dog will wag its tail in puzzlement when its horrified owner yanks it back from eating excrement.

Psychologists have developed a “disgust scale” based on how queasy people would be in 27 situations, such as stepping barefoot on an earthworm or smelling urine in a tunnel. Conservatives systematically register more disgust than liberals. . . .

It appears that we start with moral intuitions that our brains then find evidence to support. For example, one experiment involved hypnotizing subjects to expect a flash of disgust at the word “take.” They were then told about Dan, a student council president who “tries to take topics that appeal to both professors and students.”

The research subjects felt disgust but couldn’t find any good reason for it. So, in some cases, they concocted their own reasons, such as: “Dan is a popularity-seeking snob.”

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To read Kristof’s entire column, including his discussion of  how we can “discipline our brains to be more open-minded, more honest, more empirical,” click here.  To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Situation of Reason,” “The Bush Frame: Us vs. Them; Good vs. Evil; Intentions vs. Consequences,” “Ideology is Back!,” “The Situation of Confabulation,” “Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Processes,” “Jonathan Haidt on the Situation of Moral Reasoning,” “The Unconscious Situation of our Consciousness – Part IV,”and “Unconscious Situation of Choice.”

Posted in Ideology, Morality, Politics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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