The sense of smell is a powerful thing. Olfaction has been linked to motivation, emotion and even homophobia.
In a new study, titled “Disgust and the Politics of Sex,” published in the journal PLOS One, researchers from the University of Arkansas sought to examine how disgust can be a political causal agent influencing socio-political attitudes and behaviors. Patrick Stewart, Thomas Adams and John Blanchar studied how a disgusting odor can increase political conservatism and decrease support of same-sex marriage. Their work spawned from previous research that showed “heightened disgust sensitivity and reactivity were both negatively related to attitudes towards gay marriage and premarital sex but not significantly related to a range of other political issues (e.g., gun rights, school prayer, immigration).”
The researchers tested their theory with the use of a noxious odorant. Of the 57 participants, consisting of community members and students recruited via an online ad and paid $10 for their time, 30 were randomly chosen for the control group and the remaining 27 were in the variable group. The variable group was exposed to a stench caused by butyric acid — the smell found in rancid butter and sweat — placed on hidden cotton pads in the room.
Participants were then asked to complete a questionnaire determining their moral, sexual and pathogen sensitivities. Measurements for each factor ranged on a scale from “not at all disgusting” to “extremely disgusting.” Four questionnaire items pertained to same-sex marriage.