Have a Threshold for Disgusting Things? Find Out – Because It Reveals a Lot About You

How easily grossed out are you? Your sensitivity to disgust reveals more about you than you'd probably be comfortable with, from how you'll vote in this election to your potential to be a cold-blooded killer.

Kathleen McAuliffe: Similar parts of the brain - there's a lot of overlap in how we process both visceral disgust and moral disgust. Psychopaths - needless to say they're these cold-blooded killers are over representative in many of our high security jails. And these individuals show damage to many of the same circuits that are involved in disgust. Another group of individuals, although they're not predatory but people with Huntington's disease it also damages some of the circuits that are involved in disgust. People with Huntington's disease tend not to be empathetic and they think that this is related to these circuits being damaged. And they're almost unique in that they experience almost no visceral disgust whatsoever. So somebody with Huntington's disease, for example, would think nothing of picking up feces with their bare hands. So there is this sort of very interesting interrelationship, at least in the brain, between visceral and moral disgust.

A little known fact is that conservatives are more disgust sensitive. There's a huge variation acrostic populations in how disgust sensitive people are. There's actually standardized scales that measure, for example, the questionnaire you fill out and it will ask you questions about like how revolted you would be If you stepped on dog poop or if you saw a cockroach on pizza or a dirty toilet. And as a result of filling out these questionnaires they've been able to look to see if there's parallels between how disgust sensitive someone is and how conservative they are. And indeed there is a correlation. And probably the reason for that is because, again, the conservatives if you kind of really breakdown their belief systems they tend to have conservative sexual values. So, for example, concepts like virginity pledges are ideas that they're fond of. They also tend to be more opposed to immigration and foreigners are a leading source, at least in centuries past, foreigners were a leading source of exotic germs for which we had no natural defenses. So it's speculated that that could be another factor behind why people who are more conservative in their political ideology why they tend to be opposed to immigration.

Conservatives also tend to be very tradition bound. They tend to be a little bit more rigid about following religious doctrine. And again, a lot of religious practices may help to protect against infection. So that's the leading theory as to why you see this association. But in general, even in large survey studies they've shown this link between germophobia and xenophobia. So, for example, there was a paper actually that's about to be published and I think they looked at 2000 Danes and 1200 Americans, representative samples from both countries. And they found that opposition to immigration increased in direct proportion to the disgust sensitivity of the individual.

Another group did a study of 25,000 Americans. The study was done at the time of the 2008 presidential election between John McCain, a more conservative candidate, of course, and Barack Obama. And they found that the more disgust sensitive the person the more likely they would vote for John McCain. And they actually showed the proportion of votes that went to McCain in each state. It was based on the average disgust sensitivity of the state based on individual respondents to the survey.

 

Who do you think has a stronger stomach: a liberal or a conservative? Who is the tougher party?


The knee-jerk answer to this question might lean toward the latter, because conservative political ideologies – on the whole – are perceived by both sides as taking a harder line. But what brain circuits are stirring beneath those hardline decisions?

An international team of researchers conducted two studies (involving more than 31,000 people in total) and found a positive relationship between sensitivity to disgust and political conservatism. "Across both samples, contamination disgust, which reflects a heightened concern with interpersonally transmitted disease and pathogens, was most strongly associated with conservatism," the study reports.

Disgust is a sliding scale, and we’re all grossed out by different things. Some of us shudder at the thought of seeing blood. Some draw the line at foul smells. There are people who are disgusted by homosexuality and there are people are disgusted by homophobia. And there are a few groups who have almost no sensitivity to disgust at all.

Science journalist Kathleen McAuliffe knows a lot about disgust. She took us on a wonderful tour of parasites here, and in the video above she tackles the link between visceral disgust and moral disgust. It’s hard for the average person to fathom how someone can decide to kill in cold blood, and also physically carry out the act. But research has found that cold-blooded killers have damage to the brain circuits involved in the disgust response, which explains why these people are less squeamish about not just the moral quandary of taking a life but are also quite comfortable carrying out the grizzly act.

McAuliffe points to another group of individuals who have similarly impaired disgust circuits: people with Huntington’s disease. This is a genetically transmitted neurodegenerative disease, and those with it are unable to recognize expressions of disgust in others, and don’t tend to react to foul smells, sights or tastes. People with Huntington’s also have impaired fear recognition, as the two areas are closely related in the brain.

Which brings us back to conservative political ideologies, particularly immigration aversion. McAuliffe notes that there is a link between germophobia and xenophobia, as evidenced by a study of 2000 Danish people and 1200 Americans, where the data showed that opposition to immigration increased in direct proportion to the disgust sensitivity of the individual.

If you want to see where you sit on the disgust sensitivity scale, there’s a quiz for your amusement over here.

Kathleen McAuliffe's book is This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society.

Why the singular “They” is Merriam-Webster's word of the year

"They" has taken on a not-so-new meaning lately. This earned it the scrutiny it needed to win.

Pixabay by pexels
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Merriam-Webster has announced "they" as the word of the year.
  • The selection was based on a marked increase in traffic to the online dictionary page.
  • Runners up included "quid pro quo" and "crawdad."
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'The West' is, in fact, the world's biggest gated community

A review of the global "wall" that divides rich from poor.

Image: TD Architects
Strange Maps
  • Trump's border wall is only one puzzle piece of a global picture.
  • Similar anxieties are raising similar border defenses elsewhere.
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Public health crisis: Facebook ads misinform about HIV prevention drug

Facebook's misinformation isn't just a threat to democracy. It's endangering lives.

Photo Credit: Paul Butler / Flickr
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Facebook and Instagram users have been inundated with misleading ads about medication that prevents the transmission of HIV (PrEP), such as Truvada.
  • Over the years, Facebook's hands-off ad policy has faced scrutiny when it comes to false or ambiguous information in its political ads.
  • Unregulated "surveillance capitalism" commodifies people's personal information and makes them vulnerable to sometimes misleading ads.

LGBT groups are saying that Facebook is endangering lives by advertising misleading medical information pertaining to HIV patients.

The tech giant's laissez-faire ad policy has already been accused of threatening democracy by providing a platform for false political ads, and now policy could be fostering a major public-health concern.

LGBT groups take on Facebook’s ad policy

According to LGBT advocates, for the past six months Facebook and Instagram users have been inundated with misleading ads about medication that prevents the transmission of HIV (PrEP), such as Truvada. The ads, which The Washington Post reports appear to have been purchased by personal-injury lawyers, claim that these medications threaten patients with serious side effects. According to LGBT organizations led by GLAAD, the ads have left some patients who are potentially at risk of contracting HIV scared to take preventative drugs, even though health officials and federal regulators say the drugs are safe.

LGBT groups like GLAAD, which regularly advises Facebook on LGBT issues, reached out to the company to have the ads taken down, saying they are false. Yet, the tech titan has refused to remove the content claiming that the ads fall within the parameters of its policy. Facebook spokeswoman Devon Kearns told The Post that the ads had not been rated false by independent fact-checkers, which include the Associated Press. But others are saying that Facebook's controversial approach to ads is creating a public-health crisis.

In an open letter to Facebook sent on Monday, GLAAD joined over 50 well-known LGBTQ groups including the Human Rights Campaign, the American Academy of HIV Medicine and the National Coalition for LGBT Health to publicly condemn the company for putting "real people's lives in imminent danger" by "convincing at-risk individuals to avoid PrEP, invariably leading to avoidable HIV infections."

What Facebook’s policy risks 

Of course, this is not the first time Facebook's policy has faced scrutiny when it comes to false or ambiguous information in its ads. Social media has been both a catalyst and conduit for the rapid-fire spread of misinformation to the world wide web. As lawmakers struggle to enforce order to cyberspace and its creations, Facebook has become a symbol of the threat the internet poses to our institutions and to public safety. For example, the company has refused to take down 2020 election ads, largely funded by the Trump campaign, that spew false information. For this reason, Facebook and other social media platforms present a serious risk to a fundamental necessity of American democracy, public access to truth.

But this latest scandal underlines how the misconstrued information that plagues the web can infect other, more intimate aspects of American lives. Facebook's handling of paid-for claims about the potential health risks of taking Truvada and other HIV medications threatens lives.

"Almost immediately we started hearing reports from front-line PrEP prescribers, clinics and public health officials around the country, saying we're beginning to hear from potential clients that they're scared of trying Truvada because they're seeing all these ads on their Facebook and Instagram feeds," said Peter Staley, a long-time AIDS activist who works with the PrEP4All Collaboration, to The Post.

Unregulated Surveillance Capitalism

To be fair, the distinction between true and false information can be muddy territory. Personal injury lawyers who represent HIV patients claim that the numbers show that the potential risks of medications such as Turvada and others that contain the ingredient antiretroviral tenofovir may exist. This is particularly of note when the medication is used as a treatment for those that already have HIV rather than prevention for those that do not. But the life-saving potential of the HIV medications are unequivocally real. The problem, as some LGBT advocates are claiming, is that the ads lacked vital nuance.

It also should be pointed out that Facebook has taken action against anti-vaccine content and other ads that pose threats to users. Still, the company's dubious policies clearly pose a big problem, and it has shown no signs of adjusting. But perhaps the underlying issue is the failure to regulate what social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff calls "surveillance capitalism" by which people's experiences, personal information, and characteristics become commodities. In this case, paid-for personal-injury legal ads that target users with certain, undisclosed characteristics. It's been said that you should be wary of what you get for free, because it means you've become the product. Facebook, after all, is a business with an end goal to maximize profits.

But why does a company have this kind of power over our lives? Americans and their legislators are ensnared in an existential predicament. Figure out how to regulate Facebook and be accused with endangering free speech, or leave the cyber business alone and risk the public's health going up for sale along with its government.