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We introduce the Politics and the Life Sciences Special Issue on Disgust and Political Attitudes discussing the importance of understanding state and trait disgust, the innovative and transparent process by which registered reports and preregistered studies were chosen and funded, and the manuscripts that make up this special issue. This essay concludes by discussing future research directions in disgust and political attitudes, as well as the benefits of a transparent review process that avoids the “file drawer problem” of unpublished null findings.
In the political domain, disgust is primarily portrayed as an emotion that explains individual differences in pathogen avoidance. We hypothesized that political rhetoric accusing opponents of moral transgressions also elicits disgust responses. In this registered report, we present the results from a laboratory experiment. We find that participants self-report higher disgust and have stronger physiological (Levator labii) responses to pictures of out-party leaders compared with in-party leaders. Participants also report higher disgust in response to moral violations of in-party leaders. There is more suggestive evidence that in-party leaders evoke more labii activity when they commit moral violations than when out-party leaders do. The impact of individual differences in moral disgust and partisanship strength is very limited to absent. Intriguingly, on average, the physiological and self-reported disgust responses to the treatment are similar, but individuals differ in whether their response is physiological or cognitive. This motivates further theorizing regarding the concordance of emotional responses.
Recent advances in gene editing technology promise much for medical advances and human well-being. However, in parallel domains, there have been objections to the use of such biotechnologies. Moreover, the psychological factors that govern the willingness to use gene editing technology have been underexplored to date. In this registered report, we sought to test whether pathogen disgust sensitivity is linked with opposition to gene editing. U.K.-based adult participants (N = 347) were recruited to this study. Gene editing attitudes reflected two largely distinct latent factors concerning enhancing human traits and treating medical disorders. In contrast to prediction, pathogen disgust sensitivity was related to greater support for gene editing in both of these domains. This result suggests that gene editing, at least in the current study, is not viewed as pathogenic, or that the perceived benefits of gene editing outweigh any perceived pathogen risk.
Disgust is derived from evolutionary processes to avoid pathogen contamination. Theories of gender differences in pathogen disgust utilize both evolutionary psychological and sociocultural perspectives. Drawing on research that suggests that masculine and feminine gender identities are somewhat orthogonal, we examine how gender identity intersects with pathogen disgust. In addition, building on evolutionary psychological and sociocultural accounts of how caregiving and parental investment affect pathogen disgust, we present a new measure of caregiving disgust and compare its properties across gender, parental status, and political ideology with those of a conventional pathogen disgust measure. This registered report finds that how masculinity and femininity affect disgust varies by gender, disgust domain, and their intersection; that parental status effects vary by disgust domain but not gender; that reframing disgust in terms of caregiving eliminates the gender gap in disgust; and that the caregiving frame unexpectedly strengthens the relationship between disgust and political ideology.
Disgust has been consistently associated with greater political conservatism. Two explanations have been proposed for this link. According to a pathogen threat model, disgust serves a pathogen-avoidance function, encouraging more conservative ideology, whereas a sexual strategies model suggests that this link is explained by variability in short-term versus long-term mating goals. In two preregistered studies using a college student and community sample (total N = 1,950), we examined whether experimentally manipulating pathogen threat and mate availability produced differences in political ideology and whether these differences were explained by disgust and sociosexual attitudes. Across both studies, we did not find evidence that manipulating pathogen threat or mate availability resulted in change in political ideology. In Study 1, manipulating mate availability was indirectly associated with greater political conservativism through stronger sociosexual attitudes that favor monogamy. These findings failed to replicate in Study 2. Implications for theory and future research are discussed.
Many U.S. states have proposed policies that restrict bathroom access to an individual's birth sex. These policies have had widespread effects on safety for transgender and gender-nonconforming people, as well as on state economies. In this registered report, we assessed the role of disgust in support for policies that restrict transgender bathroom access. We found that sensitivity to pathogen disgust was positively associated with support for bathroom restrictions; sexual and injury disgust were unrelated. We also examined the role of disgust-driven moral concerns, known as purity concerns, as well as harm-related moral concerns in support for bathroom restrictions. While concerns about harm to cisgender and transgender people predicted support for bathroom restrictions, purity was a much stronger predictor. Also, purity partially mediated the link between pathogen disgust and support for bathroom restrictions, even after accounting for harm concerns. Findings and implications are discussed.
What causes people to see their political attitudes in a moral light? One answer is that attitude moralization results from associating one's attitude stance with feelings of disgust. To test the possibility that disgust moralizes, the current study used a high-powered preregistered design looking at within-person change in moral conviction paired with an experimental manipulation of disgust or anger (versus control). Results from the preregistered analyses found that we successfully induced anger but not disgust; however, our manipulation had no effect on moral conviction. Additional exploratory analyses investigating whether emotion and harm predicted increases in moral conviction over time found that neither disgust, anger, nor sadness had an effect on moralization, whereas perceptions of harm did predict moralization. Our findings are discussed in terms of their implications for current theory and research into attitude moralization.
PsychTable.org is a new online, mass-collaborative tool for the social sciences that aggregates evidence for and classifies the evolved psychological adaptations (EPAs) that have been proposed to comprise the human mind. This article provides an overview of the need for this reference tool and how it can benefit researchers who incorporate the behavioral sciences into their work. The article walks the reader through a hypothetical use case for PsychTable.org and describes the features of the website. PsychTable.org is intended to help key stakeholders better understand the linkages between EPAs and political behavior, public policy, and ethics.