How your sense of smell may affect your politics

Mar 01, 2018

HUMANS, like other animals, have evolved to notice and avoid sources of infection, whether that be rotten food or sickly members of their own species. This “behavioural immune system” can have unexpected consequences. Studies have, for instance, shown that those whose noses are more easily offended are also more likely to shun foreigners or disapprove of homosexuals. More broadly, people who live in regions with more to fear from pathogens tend to be less promiscuous and gregarious (such risky behaviour may spread disease). These effects are, by their nature, generally small but evidence has been amassed that they do in fact exist.

This led Marco Liuzza of the Magna Graecia University of Catanzaro, in Italy, and his colleagues to wonder whether there might be a link between a person’s sensitivity to malodorousness and the likelihood of them being sympathetic to right-wing authoritarian views. In work published this week in Royal Society Open Science, he shows that there is.

Members of the team have developed a body-odour disgust scale (BODS). This is based on asking volunteers a series of questions about different scenarios, such as noticing that a friend’s feet smell. From this it can be established how strongly, on a scale of one to five, a person reacts to bad smells. To see if this ranking reflected a person’s authoritarian...

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