How does disgust influence modern political behavior? I’ve been studying disgust as a moral emotion since I was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, working with Paul Rozin. It’s a fascinating emotion, lurking behind most of the divisive social issues in the American culture war, from abortion through flag burning, gay marriage, and now trans-gender bathroom access. My colleagues and I have found that social conservatives are higher on “disgust sensitivity” than are progressives and libertarians, and we’ve found that people’s scores on the “sanctity” foundation of the Moral Foundations Scale is a powerful predictor of their attitudes on many political issues, even after you partial out their self-placement on the left-right dimension.
The role of disgust in politics is especially important in 2016 as Donald Trump talks more about disgust than any major political figure since, well, some 20th century figures that were concerned about guarding the purity of their nation and ethnic stock. Studying disgust can help you understand Donald Trump and some portion of his political appeal. I haven’t studied European right-wing movements, but I’ve seen hints that disgust plays a role in many of them as well. Anyone interested in the psychology of authoritarianism should learn a bit about disgust.
In 2013 I gave a talk on the psychology of disgust and politics at the Museum of Sex, in New York City, hosted by Reason, so the audience was mostly composed of libertarians. An artist, Matthew Drake, has just taken a portion of that talk – on the evolution of disgust and its links to politics – and animated it using the RSA whiteboard technique. I think he did a great job; see for yourself below.
(Note that there is no sound for the first 28 seconds)