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Politics Science

Reactions To Disgusting Images Predict a Persons Political Ideology 330

LuxuryYacht writes A new study shows that the way your brain responds to photos of of maggots, mutilated carcasses, and gunk in the kitchen sink gives a pretty good indication of whether you're liberal or conservative. "Remarkably, we found that the brain's response to a single disgusting image was enough to predict an individual's political ideology," Read Montague, a Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute psychology professor who led the study, said in a written statement. 83 men and women viewed a series of images while having their brains scanned in a functional MRI (fMRI) machine. The images included the disgusting photos described above, along with photos of babies and pleasant landscapes. Afterward, the participants were asked to rate how grossed out they were by each photo. They also completed a survey about their political beliefs, which included questions about their attitudes toward school prayer, gun control, immigration, and gay marriage. There was no significant difference in how liberals and conservatives rated the photos. But the researchers noted differences between the two groups in the activity of brain regions associated with disgust recognition, emotion regulation, attention and even memory. The differences were so pronounced that the researchers could analyze a scan and predict the person's political leaning with 95 percent accuracy.
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Reactions To Disgusting Images Predict a Persons Political Ideology

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  • Two things. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Sunday November 02, 2014 @02:51AM (#48291513)


    Eighty-three healthy individuals (males/females = 41/42; age = 18â"62; mean [SD] = 29.0 [11.3] years) in Roanoke and Blacksburg, VA, area were recruited ...


    They also completed a survey about their political beliefs, which included questions about their attitudes toward school prayer, gun control, immigration, and gay marriage.

    So what would the results be if the recruits were from a more "Liberal" country?

    That is the problem with these "studies". DO NOT look in your backyard for cases that support your bias. Look for cases that contradict your bias. Even if you have to look at the people in other countries. Particularly countries where there is less focus on the items that are controversial in the USofA.

    • Re:Two things. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Chrisje ( 471362 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @03:28AM (#48291591)

      And boy let me tell you, the items that are controversial in the USofA are not the same ones that are controversial over here in Europe. Of course we get a smattering of IS and Ebola related news this time of year, but in general political discourse tends to not involve discussions on what one should be doing with one's penis, vagina, uterus or the contents thereof, but much more about the re-distribution of wealth and the state of law.

      I see that both in Israel and the US, to be honest: A focus on the irrelevant. Case in point being that the security craze and hype surrounding 9/11 has caused a spike in ground traffic that killed more people than the 9/11 incident itself. It seems to me that both the US and Israel have a greater tendency than normal to hype relatively small risk factors and completely and blatantly ignore evidence for large looming risk factors, even in the face of mounting evidence.

      The more progressive a society gets, the more balanced people's view is on risk. Whether the one causes the other or vice versa, I do not know. The Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland are decidedly more earthy in their political discourse, even if obviously we do have some fear mongering rotten apples. Case in point in the Netherlands being the fascist reactionaries that crawled from under all the rocks in the country in the wake of the discussion on whether blackface is a good idea, but I digress.

      So while the findings are interesting, firstly 83 subjects is a piss in the pond and secondly the original poster is right: Is this finding universal for all the cultures we find on the globe?

      Lastly, by US standards I would be a flaming liberal. There's nothing wrong with smoking a doozie, I am atheist, I think abortion isn't even worth a discussion since babies only really become sentient some 2 months after birth, obviously I am in favour of gay marriage and last but not least I think the proliferation of weapons amongst civilians (and even the army, but I digress again) is a really really silly idea.

      However, I self identify as a Left Winger in terms of economic re-distribution politics, as a Constitutional Conservative when it comes to safeguarding the state of law in my country, a Conservationist in terms of the environment and indeed finally as a Liberal in terms of sexual practice and tolerance and the tolerance for people of other color. But when it comes to my atheism I am quite extremist. I think people who are god-believers are simply lesser beings and I do strive to stamp out god-belief and related silliness wherever I encounter it.

      Now I wonder, given all my views and thoughts on things, whether I would be deemed a "Conservative" or "Liberal", and what selection criteria would be used for classifying me such. Because none of those were mentioned in the article.

      • Re:Two things. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by umafuckit ( 2980809 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @05:06AM (#48291839)
        Indeed. I've just returned to Europe following a 6 year stint in the US. There were a lot of things I really liked about America, but what I won't miss is watching the news, seeing how increasingly fucked up and dysfunctional is the whole political system, and hearing the meaning of the word "freedom" being twisted out of all recognition. It's all together rather depressing.
        • And I've remained in the USA for the last...hmm, it's been almost forty years since I lived in Europe.

          And I haven't bothered to watch the (TV) news in longer than that. I'll scan the web for headlines, but that's about it.

          Amazing how much happier it's possible to be when you don't waste your time worrying about things you have no control over....

      • In the US, you would be a liberal (left of center). None of the things you listed would make you the slightest bit "conservative," as it's defined here.
      • by LF11 ( 18760 )
        You are putting too much into the study. This study shows that there IS a biological basis for SOME political beliefs. This flies directly in the face of a great deal of currently-accepted knowledge, and is very important. This study shows that there is room for more research to explore all the questions you describe.

        If you come away with more questions than answers, it's probably good research.
      • Well as popular as your views may be on /. it doesn't matter in the long run. You are not breeding and will be extinct in the near future.

      • by jbolden ( 176878 )

        You would be a liberal politically or possibly libertarian.

        As for USA sillyness regarding risk, I can make pretty similar claims about your countries. For example obsession about dangers of radiation like dangers to food safety from radiation cleaning of meat. Under your theory that this sort of risk poor assessment is unique to USA and Israel how would you explain that?

      • However, I self identify as a Left Winger in terms of economic re-distribution politics

        As much as I hate litmus tests, that's pretty much the litmus test; When society can take a Man's property soley based on some arbitary definition of "fairness", society can take anything.

      • Here in the US, our infotainment industry has been in full swing for decades now convincing us to care, and care deeply and personally, about things that really don't matter in the grand scheme of things. At this point people are so goddamned confused about the state of our country and world that they consistently vote against their own best interests, and do so with pride and a sense of superiority.

        Anyway, "liberal" and "conservative" seem to me entirely artificial concepts these days. The traditional (r

    • Re:Two things. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Prune ( 557140 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @05:15AM (#48291863)
      The following quote from the paper suggests that, contrary to your claim, there is a natural basis for defining what is a moderate position:

      Political attitudes and interest did not show a significant linear relationship [r(81)= 0.148, p= 0.182], but instead showed a U-shaped curve (FigureS1A), indicating that greater political interest is associated with polarized political attitudes.

      The actual figure shows there is a fairly even distribution in terms of frequency throughout the range of political attitudes (you can see it by eye even if you don't create a histogram of the data), but the centrality of the lowest interest section along the attitudes axis needs to be explained. If you were to be correct, the range of attitudes on that axis covered by samples (removing outliers, if any), would be significantly shifted based on which country the sample group is taken from. Then either the location of the lowest interest section would not be central in the sample range for some countries (and, from experience spending time in a dozen different countries, I would bet my life against that--polarization is evident and ubiquitous), or the lowest interest section would be shifted along the attitudes axis, preserving its relative centrality for each country's data set. The latter requires a mechanism to generate it, and I'm extremely skeptical as to your ability to propose a convincing one that is based on primarily sociological considerations (biological ones are out of the question due to the relative biological uniformity across many countries with seemingly different political leanings according to your perception). I expect neither to be the case--that you are mistaken, and plots of sample groups from different nations will have far more overlap on the attitudes axis than you perceive. The range of fundamental political attitudes does not vary greatly from country to country and, as this paper implies, likely has a strong biological basis; rather, small differences are magnified by complex sociocultural mechanisms to create the biases of the overarching political landscape in each country.
    • So what would the results be if the recruits were from a more "Liberal" country?

      Well, presumably, it's not the only factor. I'd imagine that these brain differences could be an additive factor that gets superimposed onto the culturally induced average.

      Particularly countries where there is less focus on the items that are controversial in the USofA.?

      More "liberal" (whatever that means) countries surely have either similar debates or some analogical issues. You may not have school prayer debates in France but you get debates on religious clothing in schools. Immigration is a universal issue. And you don't need to be religious to have gay marriage debates; there are many irreligious pe

    • The first step is to try and find an effect, even in your own backyard. Once you did, the second step as a further study, is to try to falsify it by using different source to try to reproduce the effect when you do not expect it, or to try to NOT reproduce the effect when you DO expect it. You are putting the cart before the horse. Now I expect further study of the two kinds I mentionned above, rightfully putting the cart behind the horse's ass.
    • by jbolden ( 176878 )

      That is the problem with these "studies". DO NOT look in your backyard for cases that support your bias. Look for cases that contradict your bias. Even if you have to look at the people in other countries. Particularly countries where there is less focus on the items that are controversial in the USofA.

      This work is a long tradition of gauging support for rightwing authoritarianism. The earliest forms of the research were done in Italy. It moved to the USA because 70% of all psychology / sociology resear

  • by Crashmarik ( 635988 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @02:53AM (#48291519)

    I wonder how long before your thoughts will be ruled physical evidence ?

  • "Welcome to the testing room of the Parallax Corporation's Division of Human Engineering. You will now please go up to the chair, and you will sit down, make yourself comfortable, be sure to place each one of your hands on the box on either side of the chair, making sure that each one of your fingers is on one of the white rectangles. Just sit back, nothing is required of you, except to observed the visual materials that are presented to you. Be sure to keep your fingers on the box at all times. All rig

  • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @03:47AM (#48291623)

    I'm a little curious what precisely they were showing to these people.

    I mean... the images could have had political connotations that are not evident in the abstract's description.

    In any case, politics are largely taught cultural traits rather then innate biological traits. So... not entirely sure where this is going.

    Someone that watches more horror movies for example is going to have a higher threshold for disgust and shock probably then someone that doesn't.

    I know that most men for example don't get grossed out, threatened, or shocked by things will tend to cause many women to gag, become uncomfortable, or otherwise become startled.

    Then you have age and generational issues in that given ages and generations have different cultural perspectives that influence the way they respond to things.

    My grandfather for example fought in WW2 but I'm pretty sure I could shock or gross him out with stuff that wouldn't really bother most of my peers.

    It is a very murky issue and from what I am reading here they don't appear to have controlled for all the variables properly.

    I'd want to grab college students for example because they're all pretty close to the same age. That would limit the study to some extent and control for some of the age issues. And then the images you show them really do need to be examined for subtle political connotations which really are very hard to eliminate. ... this is a stickier issue then I think the study properly appreciates. That said, glad they're having fun with the MRI machine... looks neato.

    • The article says the image that gave the only significant difference by political ideology was a mutilated body.

      • A mutilated body of whom? If I showed you a picture of mussolini hanging from a lamp post that would give you some sort of reaction. If I showed that to some other people... they might have different reactions.

        I show it to old Italians for example and there are going to be different emotions happening in their heads.

        The point I am making is that you really need to include some of those images... especially the key ones that showed a difference so people know what triggered it.

        I also want to know if the gend

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 02, 2014 @04:17AM (#48291699)

    The "issues" appear to be from the American political arena, which is about as much about political ideology as World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. is about sports. They're also highly polarised, in that they all come in red and blue versions with no alternative views possible, that are then conveniently grouped such that anyone leaning toward either colour in any one issue is then expected to be leaning toward matching colours in the other issues.

    So what does this study tell us? I think we're seeing two cases of pervading and mutually opposed groupthink, where the patterns have become distinctive enough to be discernible -- recall that limited "thought readers" already exist. In other words, I don't see a necessity for biological predisposition here. It could be, but do note that to people used to multi-party systems (n>>2), "American politics" looks like an one-party system consisting of two factions that are only interested in duking it out with the other group, to the point of (either faction) being willing to shut down the government over some petty squabble or other. In other words, the discerning this thing does is really quite limited because the source spectrum is so poorly populated with just two possible inputs that are strongly polarised against each other to boot.

  • by John.Banister ( 1291556 ) * on Sunday November 02, 2014 @04:18AM (#48291701) Homepage
    I've never considered my political ideology to be something that exists on a linear scale. How I feel about a particular political issue is often different from the feelings of either of the large political groups, and where my feelings align with those of political groups, I have some that align with people of groups considered to be at either end of this scale. I could be mistaken in thinking that other people are similar to me this way, but when I read about a study that first confines political ideology to a linear scale, and then uses [insert method] to predict where one lands on that scale, I have to give some thought to the possibility of inherent confirmation bias in the design of the system.
    • by itzly ( 3699663 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @04:24AM (#48291725)
      With a two party system, everything becomes a linear scale.
      • I can see that concept, but I think, with people there's room for more differences. For example, Democrats in Illinois and Democrats in West Virginia may have somewhat different opinions regarding firearms regulation.
    • This is irrelevant. The paper is pretty clear in that they're only examining this particular dimension of the political space. I don't see anywhere that they're trying to sweep that under the carpet. Moreover, there is no problem with the fact that various political issues used in the questionnaire may have a larger component along other dimensions compared to the "left-right" one. There is no way that ignoring the other dimensions can introduce bias, because that process obviously doesn't affect the coordi
    • You used the word "feel" twice to describe your positions. You didn't say "what I think" about the issues. Many people may do more thinking about the issues as opposed to feeling and thereby end up with a consistent set of thoughts. As an example, if you think that "we" should fix things and that federal government is the appropriate instrument of "we", that'll be consistent and you'll think that the federal government should do all sorts of things - you'll be a Democrat. If you think that the federal gov

      • The first amendment is one notable thing where this doesn't hold true, however. On that, the parties are inconsistent with their systems of thought.

        How so? From my perspective, the self-consistent Democrat view towards "fixing things" via the first Amendment would have them doing things like limiting how people can ask for redress of grievances by slow walking tax exemption applications.Or by using a state tax service as a tool to conduct a secret investigation into an opponent's donors, thus making it difficult for the opponent to get donors. Or by hassling Christians whose exercise of religion extends to providing logistical support to weddings. Or b

        • Would that also include subpoenas of all sermons in Houston, Tx that mentioned either gay marriage or a certain city official?
          I suppose you have a point.

          • I left out the subpoenas in Houston simply because the list was too long, but yeah, that's another example of the phenomenon. Democrats are remarkably self-consistent on "expanding government" when it comes to First Amendment issues.
            • I don't think anyone would argue against their right to say it - making it not a first amendment issue - what's being argued is that they may not have the right to continue to claim the right to avoid both taxes and financial disclosure while at the same time saying what they're saying. That's very different.

          • That's one area I'd love to see some Supreme Court guidance on. The issues really stem from the fact that Churches are granted an unprecedented tax exemption (every other organization that wants to not pay taxes has to open its books for a start) in exchange for following a very small yet undefined set of rules, some of the most important being 1) claiming to be a church and 2) agreeing to stay out of politics. Risking that massive taxpayer subsidy for a violation of the staying out of politics rules seem

      • If you think that the federal government should stick to what the Constitution authorizes them to do, or that they tend to screw up, you will conclude that they shouldn't do many of the things Democrats want them to do - you'll be a Republican.

        Where are these Republicans (or Democrats) that want to follow the constitution? All I see is them supporting the NSA's mass surveillance, the TSA, DUI checkpoints, protest permits, 'indecency' censorship, and about a million other unconstitutional policies. I'm not sure how anyone could possibly believe that either party wants to respect your freedoms or the constitution.

  • People vote the way they do because of brain damage. *LOL*

  • Because the "right" people got killed.

    Liberals: Ohh my god how can people do this to other people can't they change their perspective?

    Conservative: Isn't the purpose of the Red Cross to make aiming easier on the battlefield?

  • by itsdapead ( 734413 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @05:20AM (#48291869)

    "Is this testing whether I'm a republican or a lesbian, Mr Deckard?"

    Just don't ask the subjects about their mother...

  • If the differences are a level of shock, and history of exposure to similar stimuli is a predictor of level of shock, then perhaps political leanings correlate with what stimuli people choose to expose themselves to throughout their lives. For instance, liberals watching guts in medical dramas and conservatives watching love stories in family dramas.

  • by hduff ( 570443 )

    "We proposed that conservatives, compared to liberals, have greater negativity bias, which includes both disgusting and threatening conditions in our study."

    So, the more disgusted you react to disgusting photos indicates greater political conservatism.

  • by whistlingtony ( 691548 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @12:25PM (#48293867)

    I'm sick of this thread, and I'm sick of all of you. You're all petulant children throwing tantrums. These comments aren't even worth reading. They're all just more of the same bashing without any substance or actual discussion.

    This is INTERESTING and you're all too busy throwing out tropes that any honest actor would dismiss as ad hominem attacks to actually discuss this. Conservatives react slightly stronger to disgusting images. We know this of course. This has been theorized and shown before. Of course, a more liberal person will have different areas light up too.

    This means there's a very real perception filter difference happening here, and perhaps we need to extend a little empathy across the quite imaginary isle and try to TALK to one another.

    No. Liberals do not want to laze around and let the government do everything for them. No. Conservatives do not want perpetual war. No. Liberals do not want other people to pay for their stuff. No. Conservatives do not blame unions and immigrants for everything. You people should KNOW these simplistic tropes are full of it, and here they are flung around as if true.

    I'm liberal. My best friend is conservative. When we listen to each other, really listen instead of hearing what the TV wants us to hear from each other, we can have very nice discussions about economics and the world. We both want bankers punished for what they did. We both want the economic system to be regulated. We both want clean air and water. We both want to get the !@#$ out of the middle east. We both want to live in a country that's fair and just. Our differences are far less than our similarities.

    Bah. I'm ranting.... this is interesting science and all of you completely missed it in an attempt to sling shit all over. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

    • by bmacs27 ( 1314285 ) on Sunday November 02, 2014 @01:32PM (#48294401)
      I'm a neuroscientist. Unfortunately this is most likely sensationalist BS, not interesting science. I haven't read the paper. Typically these sorts of "I did fMRI and can predict stuff" papers are of very little scientific utility. Their predictive model almost certainly involves coefficients applied to responses in various voxels or regions of interest. Dollars to donuts they have almost as many coefficients as participants. Even with just a 5 or 6 d space it is not surprising one could find a means of categorizing 83 participants into two categories with relative accuracy. These mind reading studies are a huge waste of public resources in order to make headlines for researchers. Often, these studies cost on the order of 10k per subject. Thus, this study likely cost on the order of a million dollars, and we learned very little other than it's easy to find accurate linear discriminates in large dimensional spaces. Still feel worth it?
      • Yeah, I suspect all they have is a machine learning algorithm that was good at predicting how 83 particular individuals felt about politics in 2014.

        Good luck using the same algorithm on a different group of people, or on the same group a few years later.

        • That's the idea. I'm sure they did some cross validation, although it was most likely jack knifing (leave one out). That's a fairly low bar. They still got it wrong on 4 subjects. Kinda dumb. Waste of money. Well... That's not true. It paid for a healthy chunk of someone's research magnet. So that's good... I guess... But the stupid things mostly just encourage bad science with pretty pictures. I'd rather fund 1000 social psychologists running surveys, let alone 500 behavioral psychophysicists or a
  • "... those people who disagree with me are not just wrong, they are crazy!"

    Nothing new. See "The Authoritarian Personality" (1950), a ringing 'scientific' denunciation of authoritarianism by the party that now wants to force you to bake wedding cakes for human-lobster weddings, even if you don't want to ...

Can anyone remember when the times were not hard, and money not scarce?