Politics Stinks! New Study Connects Smell Sensitivity and Political Attitudes

Results suggest Trump voters may be hard-wired to avoid infectious disease — but hold your nose first

Sniff. Sniff.

What’s that smell?

A study conducted by Stockholm University psychology and scent researchers noted a connection between folks who are extra-sensitive to disgusting smells like urine and body odor — and folks who prefer an authoritarian-style political leader.

Further, these “experts” (don’t you just love “expert input”?) theorized that this super-sensitivity when it comes to smell may be connected to being hard-wired to avoid infectious diseases.

It is worth nothing upfront that the researchers’ own political attitudes carry a bit of a partisan stench that could cause some conservatives to wrinkle their noses.

For example, they described our sitting president this way, as quoted in Science Direct: “Donald Trump talks frequently about how different people disgust him. He thinks that women are disgusting and that immigrants spread disease and it comes up often in his rhetoric. It fits with our hypothesis that his supporters would be more easily disgusted themselves,” said Jonas Olofsson, one of the study’s authors.

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That stinks.

But if you can hold your nose long enough to get past the researchers’ arguably smelly assumptions about President Donald Trump and those who voted for him, you can discover that what the researchers found was surprisingly refreshing.

The survey research they gathered was from participants in several different countries. They asked people about their level of disgust for body odors and about their political views. For participants in the United States, they specifically asked about how people planned to vote in the 2016 election. (Yes, the study predates the election results.)

As it turned out, those who were more likely to have higher levels of disgust for body odors were also more likely to say they intended to vote for President Trump.

So what does that mean and why does it matter? Depends on how you look at the results.

The researchers’ interpretation was multifold — with some parts more sweet-smelling than others. They posited, for example, that a sense of disgust serves a protective function against danger and infection, which is obviously a good thing.

Where the researchers gave off a stinky skew was around their assumptions about Trump voters in general. They seem to believe Trump voters loathe diversity.

Specifically, they posit that Trump voters endorse forms of societal organization that keep groups of people separate. Incredibly, they even went so far as to say (and take a deep breath before reading this bit of science-speak): “The shared variance between basic emotional reactivity to potential pathogen cues such as body odors and ideological attitudes that can lead to aggression [toward] groups perceived as deviant can prompt future investigations on what are the emotional determinants of out-group derogation.”

Translated, they’re saying people who get disgusted by stinky smells that could represent a safety hazard might be aggressive toward people outside their own group. Further, they think it’s important to study that more deeply because it will tell them what causes people to treat poorly those who differ from them.

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That seems a bit of a jump — a long running jump.

One additional interpretation they offer makes a lot more sense. Feelings of disgust are actually important for survival, they say. Being completely grossed out by the noxious odor of rotten eggs, for example, means a person is less likely to get sick, as he or she is not going to eat those rotten eggs.

In other words, Trump voters — who often land in the conservative camp — may be innately better equipped to avoid danger and illness.

Spinning it any other way would be, well, a steaming pile of … nonsense.

Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and regular contributor to LifeZette.

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