People who squirm when confronted with slime, can't stand the sight of blood, and become pale when see dead bodies are more likely to be a conservative than their less-squeamish counterparts, according to two Cornell studies.
Study leader David Pizarro, Cornell assistant professor of Psychology, says that persons who shudder at such things most likely tend to be conservative politically, especially in their attitudes toward gays and lesbians.
His research raises questions about the role of disgust in contemporary judgments of morality and purity.
Pizarro carried out the first study in collaboration with Yoel Inbar of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and Paul Bloom of Yale University. The researchers surveyed 181 U.S. adults from politically mixed "swing states".
They subjected these adults to two indexes-the Disgust Sensitivity Scale (DSS), which offers various scenarios to assess disgust sensitivity, and a political ideology scale-which enabled the team to find a correlation between being more easily disgusted and political conservatism.
With a view to finding out whether disgust sensitivity is linked to specific conservative attitudes, The research team later surveyed 91 Cornell undergraduates with the DSS, as well as with questions about their positions on issues including gay marriage, abortion, gun control, labor unions, tax cuts and affirmative action.
Writing about their findings in the journal Cognition and Emotion, the researchers revealed that the participants who rated higher in disgust sensitivity were more likely to oppose gay marriage and abortion, issues that are related to notions of morality or purity.
They further said that the study also revealed a weak correlation between disgust sensitivity and support for tax cuts, but no link between disgust sensitivity and the other issues.
A separate study conducted by Pizarro and his colleagues, published in the journal Emotion, showed a link between higher disgust sensitivity and disapproval of gays and lesbians.
For this study, the researchers used implicit measures-measures that have been shown to assess attitudes people may be unwilling to report explicitly; or that they may not even know they possess).
Pizarro noted that both liberals and conservatives disagreed about whether disgust had a valid place in making moral judgments.
Conservatives have argued that feeling disgusted about gay sex between consenting adults is cause enough to judge it wrong or immoral, even lacking a concrete reason. Liberals tend to disagree, and are more likely to base judgments on whether an action or a thing causes actual harm.
Pizarro said that strong differences in people's moral opinions could be understood by studying the link between disgust and moral judgment, which could, in turn, help formulate new strategies to persuade some to change their views.
"People have pointed out for a long time that a lot of our moral values seem driven by emotion, and in particular, disgust appears to be one of those emotions that seems to be recruited for moral judgments," Chronicle Online quoted Pizarro as saying.
"Disgust really is about protecting yourself from disease; it didn't really evolve for the purpose of human morality," he said.
"It clearly has become central to morality, but because of its origins in contamination and avoidance, we should be wary about its influences," Pizarro added.