People Who Are Disgusted by Body Odor Are More Likely to Hold Authoritarian Views

Foul smells cause repulsion in all of us. Nobody wants to be around the stench of urine or a close-talker's onion breath. But when it comes to body odor, the level of disgust may reveal another personality trait. New research indicates that people who are perturbed by body odors are more likely to have authoritarian beliefs. It may also say something about their voting preferences. 

Related: Body Odor and Sexual Attraction: How A Woman's Scent Attracts Men

GettyImages-76173801 A group of music festival attendees waiting to use portable toilets. A new study reveals that being sensitive to gross scents could indicate political leanings. Gareth Cattermole/Getty Image

Wariness of certain smells is natural—and essential to our survival. Studies have shown that particularly putrid scents, like decaying bodies, warns us to be alert and even hostile towards others as a form of protection.

Scientists at Stockholm University in Sweden and the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study, a research institute studying social science, took that mechanism one step further. They theorized that repulsion towards certain odors may indicate a distaste towards other people or ideas that seem foreign or deviant.

The notion has some grounding in evidence. Several prior studies, including one published in Evolution & Human Behavior in July 2006, indicated people were disgusted toward outside cultures due to a fear of contracting diseases.

For the new study, the researchers conducted three online experiments with more than 750 people total. They began by establishing how disgusted people were by six body odors: breath, sweat, feces, urine, feet and gas.

In the one experiment, people ranked if they agreed with various statements including, “Facts show that we have to be harder against crime and sexual immorality, in order to uphold law and order,” to establish if they held right-wing authoritarian views. The second study examined how averse people were to pathogens and gross situations, like sitting on a public toilet seat without a cover. The final test determined participant’s attitudes towards particular politicians including Trump and Hillary Clinton. 

The data revealed that the more people were disgusted by body odors, the likelier they were to agree with authoritarian views. The authors found a small link between supporting Donald Trump and being bothered by BO. However, they are not indicating that Trump supporters all support authoritarian views.

Does this mean that holding your nose around foul scents makes you authoritarian? No, says psychologist Justin Landy, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

“Here, I would urge caution,” Landy told Newsweek in an email. He explained that even the authors address that political attitudes are complicated and determined by many factors. 

Landy was surprised that the data did not find a relationship between odor sensitivity and conservative political leanings, which the authors also tested.

“It has been shown pretty convincingly that conservatives (particularly social conservatives) are more disgust-sensitive than their liberal counterparts,” he wrote. Landy theorized that absence of that connection in the present study may be to the international population included. Past studies, he noted, have included only Americans.

“If this is the right explanation,” said Landy, “it suggests that the disgust-conservatism link is culturally bound, which is an interesting and important possibility.”

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