Born this way: Why people might be hardwired to become Republicans

In a study, Republicans were more grossed-out by disturbing images

Published November 4, 2014 4:15PM (EST)

  (AP/Jim Cole)
(AP/Jim Cole)

One's professed political ideology is generally a fairly accurate barometer of that person's opinion on a number of moral and practical issues--a Republican will likely have certain views towards access to abortion, while a Democrat might feel strongly about gun control. Although these concepts are seemingly intellectual, a new study published in the journal Current Biology argues that the basic tenets of political ideology are actually based in biology.

According to the study, many of the impulses that lead us to register as a Democrat or Republican are actually primitive biological mechanisms that work to defend against external threats, such as disease or other physical danger. So, the study's authors decided to show a group of participants disgusting images (disgust is considered a central emotion), measure their brain activity and see if there was any correlation with their political views.

The study reads:

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). We applied a machine-learning method to fMRI data to test the hypotheses that brain responses to emotionally evocative images predict individual scores on a standard political ideology assay. Disgusting images, especially those related to animal-reminder disgust (e.g. mutilated body), generate neural responses that are highly predictive of political orientation even though these neural predictors do not agree with participants' conscious rating of the stimuli.

In other words, the way someone reacted to a disgusting image such as a roach on pizza, burn victim or baby tumor (seriously), was a good predictor of how they would identify politically.

This isn't the first time that political affiliations have been compared with instinctive reactions. A previous study also indicated that individuals who were more disgusted by disturbing images were likely to identify as Republican.

"People tend to think that their political views are purely cognitive (i.e. rational)," the initial study's authors wrote. "However, our results further support the notion that emotional processes are tightly coupled to complex and high-dimensional human belief systems, and such emotional processes might play a much larger role than we currently believe, possibly outside our awareness of its influence."

By Joanna Rothkopf

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Democrat Disgust Politics Republican Science