That’s the title of this short bit on NPR. In a nutshell, a researcher measured participants’ stress by using perspiration tests and blinking tests while showing them photos of disturbing things (an open wound with maggots) and administering random disturbing sounds (white noise).
According to the NPR report, there seems to have been a correlation between having a sensitive startle reflex and having conservative political views.
I’m skeptical about what this shows. Like some commentators on NPR, I find it hard to know what’s being measured: disgust, fear? Further, what one thinks is disturbing or disgusting often has a strong social component, so it’s not as if this study shows the biological determination of political views or adult startle reflexes.
However, it is interesting that many political debates do seem to revolve around disgust, fear and the like.
At least one theory of disgust argues that things which remind people of their own mortality, dependence and vulnerability are the things people generally find disgusting. People usually do not like to be reminded of their own mortality. The disgust response, then, does not really track whether something is moral or immoral, although people sometimes treat it as if it does.
Anyway, what does everyone else think about this study?