(Telegraph) Strong right-wing views may be driven by a fear of disease, study suggests
People with strong right-wing views may be driven by a fear of disease and increased concern about hygiene, a new study suggests.
Researchers found that people who are easily disgusted by the body odours of others, such as sweat, bad breath or the smell of urine, are also drawn to authoritarian political leaders, such as Donald Trump.
In the new study, 160 people were rated on their aversion to bodily odours on a scale to one five and their responses compared to their political views. It found that each point higher on the disgust scale was associated with feeling 7.5 points more positive towards authoritarian leaders.
“There was a solid connection between how strongly someone was disgusted by smells and their desire to have a dictator-like leader who can suppress radical protest movements and ensure that different groups ‘stay in their places’,” said study author Jonas Olofsson, a researcher in scent and psychology at Stockholm University.
“That type of society reduces contact among different groups and, at least in theory, decreases the chance of becoming ill.”
Disgust is an emotion which evolved to help people to survive, because it kept our ancestors away from things that were dangerous, or infectious.
It causes physical changes such as nose wrinkling and eye squinting which decreases their sensory perception of the world.
The researchers theorised that people with a strong instinct to distance themselves from unpleasant smells would also prefer a society where ‘culturally unfamiliar’ groups are kept separate, and so were more likely to promote right-wing authoritarian views.
Strong smells such as bad breath and body odour can hint at underlying illnesses that people may be unconsciously keen to avoid.
A scale was developed for the participants to rate their levels of disgust for body odours, both their own and others.The scale was used in a large online survey in different countries, together with questions on their political views.
In the US, questions about how they planned to vote in the presidential race in 2016 were added.
“It showed that people who were more disgusted by smells were also more likely to vote for Donald Trump than those who were less sensitive,” added Mr Olofsson.
“We thought that was interesting because Donald Trump talks frequently about how different people disgust him.
“It fits with our hypothesis that his supporters would be more easily disgusted themselves.”
The researchers say the results of the study could be interpreted to suggest that right-wing authoritarian political views are innate and difficult to change.
The research was published in Royal Society Open Science.