Is your brain a Democrat or Republican?
You may have seen this quiz floating around Facebook the past couple of weeks, and it’s an oddball.
Let’s take at least part of it together, shall we? There are 27 questions (but you’ll get the gist after just a few) and none ask about Obamacare, immigration, gay rights, taxes, North Korean sanctions, Russian collusion, the wealth gap, gender inequality, global warming, abortion, shrinking oil reserves, international trade deals, or terrorism.
• “I might be willing to try eating monkey meat, under some circumstances.”
Well that’s a heck of an opening question. How do you respond to that one? The survey asks whether you agree or disagree, with various degrees of intensity.
My first thought, of course, was of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” but the second was a little more noble. I imagined a scenario, where, traveling abroad, monkey might be a delicacy and declining hospitality might be rude.
So sure, I’d be willing to try it, given the right circumstance.
• “It would bother me to be in a science class and to see a human hand preserved in a jar.”
Do you think doctors are important? I do. Studying the human body is a virtuous profession, and the body itself is a miracle machine. No disgust here.
• “I never let any part of my body touch the toilet seat in public restrooms.”
Look, when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. But I don’t want to palm the porcelain just for kicks, either. I had to answer “mildly disgusted” on this one.
• “I would go out of my way to avoid walking through a graveyard.”
Unless it’s 1982 and I’m a young girl in a poodle skirt with Michael Jackson by my side, a graveyard poses no concern. Answer: “Strongly disagree.”
• “It would not upset me at all to watch a person with a glass eye take the eye out of the socket.”
Disgust? Au contraire — I’d have to suppress my curiosity on this one, because I’d be tempted to ask a lot of questions that might annoy the person with the glass eye.
After all, when my wife was giving birth via cesarean section, I was the dope who kept trying to look around the curtain to get a better view and interview the doctors. I like to learn things.
• “You see a person eating an apple with a knife and fork.”
I don’t know about apples, but I’ve caught flack for eating pizza with knife and fork. Whomever is carving up this apple is my comrade. Zero disgust here.
• “You see someone put ketchup on vanilla ice cream and eat it.”
Form a brute squad. We’re going after this monster. One hundred percent disgust factor.
• “As part of a sex education class, you are required to inflate a new unlubricated condom using your mouth.”
This one seems designed to test your comfort with sex. A condom is no different from a balloon in this example, though. Zero disgust.
These questions go on: Would you touch a dead cat? What if you saw someone vomit? How ‘bout maggots? Taking a sip from someone else’s cup? You get the point.
The survey stems from a 2014 study that found people’s responses to “disgusting” images of varying degrees accurately predict political orientation. The more disgusted you are, the more conservative you’ll be.
“Political ideologies summarize dimensions of life that define how a person organizes their public and private behavior, including their attitudes associated with sex, family, education, and personal autonomy,” the researchers concluded.
“Despite the abstract nature of such sensibilities, fundamental features of political ideology have been found to be deeply connected to basic biological mechanisms that may serve to defend against environmental challenges like contamination and physical threat. These results invite the provocative claim that neural responses to nonpolitical stimuli (like contaminated food or physical threats) should be highly predictive of abstract political opinions (like attitudes toward gun control and abortion).”
Here’s the catch: That Facebook quiz is bunk.
That’s because the science is based on measurements of subjects’ brain responses using functional magnetic resonance imagery — yup, an MRI.
The study expressly said when the subjects give their own feedback about how they felt about the images, they weren’t reliable. People lied, or at the very least censored their true feelings a little.
So what does all this mean?
There are widely divergent ways of interpreting the findings. I suspect conservatives may see disgust as an accurate barometer of morality, while liberals may see a lack of disgust as an indicator of empathy and reason. You could also read it as conservatives are more esoteric while liberals are more verificationist. Maybe conservatives have a more powerful survival instinct. Maybe liberals are better at analysis.
The study pretty impressively shows correlation without delving too much into causality.
But David Pizarro, professor of psychology at Cornell University, said he could pretty easily cause you to feel more conservative. He recounted experiments in which a foul odor was pumped into a room, getting that disgust factor revving. Asked about their attitudes toward gay men, the people in the room were much more positive before being exposed to the smell and much more negative afterward.
It’s something to think about. Next time you stick your tongue out at something in disgust, ask yourself what your reaction might mean, and what might be affecting it.