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.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
  • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
  • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Keep reading Show less

The history of using the Insurrection Act against Americans

Numerous U.S. Presidents invoked the Insurrection Act to to quell race and labor riots.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • U.S. Presidents have invoked the Insurrection Act on numerous occasions.
  • The controversial law gives the President some power to bring in troops to police the American people.
  • The Act has been used mainly to restore order following race and labor riots.
Keep reading Show less

Experts are already predicting an 'active' 2020 hurricane season

It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.

Image source: Shashank Sahay/unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
  • Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
  • Where's an El Niño when you need one?

Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

Four philosophers who realized they were completely wrong about things

Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?

Sartre and Wittgenstein realize they were mistaken. (Getty Images)
Culture & Religion

Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

Keep reading Show less

Facebook finally adds option to delete old posts in batches

Got any embarrassing old posts collecting dust on your profile? Facebook wants to help you delete them.

Facebook
Technology & Innovation
  • The feature is called Manage Activity, and it's currently available through mobile and Facebook Lite.
  • Manage Activity lets users sort old content by filters like date and posts involving specific people.
  • Some companies now use AI-powered background checking services that scrape social media profiles for problematic content.
Keep reading Show less