Science & Technology



Disgusted by other people's body odor? You might be more likely to support Donald Trump

Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

Your Uber driver really needs a shower. A co-worker should change his socks. You wonder whether your gym's management might have a word with a particularly smelly regular.

The level of disgust you feel at these olfactory offenders could reveal more about your social and political views than you know, says new research.

Research published this week found that the degree of disgust that an individual feels when confronted by the smell of body odors rather accurately predicts his or her inclinations toward authoritarianism.

The research found that the higher the level of disgust a person evinces upon detecting these odors, the more likely he or she is to favor a rigid social order -- with designated roles for different genders and ethnic groups -- and to support punitive responses to social, legal and moral transgressions.

In fact, the study found, in a sample of about 400 online volunteers in the United States, those measuring high on body-odor disgust were measurably more likely to hold positive views toward then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Conducted in Sweden, the new research was published this week in the British journal Royal Society Open Science.

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It may not be nice to talk about bad breath, stinky feet, sweaty body odor or the smell of feces, urine or intestinal gas, but we pretty much all notice it. Some of us shrug and move on. But some of us feel true moral outrage at the very whiff of it.

And with some good reason. Our sense of smell, after all, is one of our most primitive defenses against the dangers of spoiled food, contagious disease and hazards that might lead to death.

Walk into a cave with the stench of a decomposing body, and the disgust that would make you run away and never return might well allow you to live long and propagate your genes. A more relaxed approach to putrid smells, by contrast, could spell your early demise.

But as humans began to live in social groups, that disgust appears to have proved protective in new and different ways. Dislike of foreign people and their unfamiliar social practices likely protected some early humans from hostile invaders and from pathogens against which they had no immunity.


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