Fun fact for the nearing election season: according to a new study, your grossed-out mental meter may determine your political affiliation. For real, and with about 95 percent accuracy. Recent studies have shown that a person’s reaction, specifically disgust, to things like bodily fluids may be an indicator of that person’s political orientation. “People who are highly sensitive to disgusting images – of bodily waste, gore or animal remains – are more likely to sit on the political right and show concern for what they see as bodily and spiritual purity, so tend to oppose abortion and gay marriage,” reports New Scientist . Not so far-fetched now, eh?
In a research study headed by Dr. Read Montague at The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research, 83 volunteers underwent fMRI brain scans during which time they were shown gross images, "such as dirty toilets or mutilated carcasses," or not-so-scarring neutral or pleasant imagery, "such as landscapes and babies." The results were then tested against an algorithm of brain behavior for liberal and conservative control groups who were shown the images. What Montague’s team discovered was that while left- and right-leaning participants generally displayed relatively similar visual responses to the imagery, the parts of their brains being stimulated differed significantly between the two groups and a pattern became evident (because science, duh).
Additionally, the patterns were so specific that the accuracy with which the team can predict your political leanings is almost infallible. "In fact, the responses in the brain are so strong that we can predict with 95 percent accuracy where you'll fall on the liberal-conservative spectrum by showing you just one picture," says Montague. "This was surprising as there are no other reports where people's response to just one stimulus predicts anything behaviourally interesting."
Montague and his team are exploring a predisposition to political leanings as a means of discovering why people are so polarized in their orientation. People have incredible cognitive control, notes the report, a trait that's unique to human beings. So why as a society are we so belligerent in our political approach?
“People can deny their biological instincts for an idea — think of hunger strikes for political reasons,” Montague said. “That requires a high degree of cognitive control, and that’s the point. Think, don’t just react. But no one needs neuroscience to know that’s a good idea.” Preach.
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