Your Reaction To BO Could Reveal How Authoritarian You Really Are

WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock

What does your toleration of body odor have to do with your 2016 voting record? Apparently, it all comes down to a fear (or not) of pathogens. That’s the conclusion of a study published in Royal Society Open Science this week.

Researchers from Stockholm University found a significant correlation between high sensitivity to body odors (sweat, urine, etc) and authoritarianism, and a noticeable but much weaker link between repulsion to certain odors and support for Trump in the 2016 presidential election.


This adds to the growing body of research linking political ideology and discrimination towards minority groups to disgust sensitivity.

Would Disgust have voted Trump in the 2016 elections? via GIPHY

“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’,” Jonas Olofsson, scent and psychology researcher at Stockholm University, said in a statement.

“That type of society reduces contact among different groups and, at least in theory, decreases the chance of becoming ill.”


Disgust is an emotion we developed as a survival tool. It stops us gorging on rotten food and diving into polluted waters. That's because doing either of those two things could kill us.

Many of the things we find disgusting are related to bodily functions and sex, even when the thing in question doesn’t actually pose a health threat. This helps explain why 18 percent of people surveyed in a 2016 study were disgusted by the word “moist” – aside from being a useful adjective to describe cakes, it's strongly associated with bodily functions and, therefore, (indirectly) with disease.

Studies have shown that pictures prompting feelings of disgust can turn liberals (temporarily) more conservative. Now, it seems that your reaction to odors, too, could be a dead giveaway to your politics.

The team developed a 1-7 scale for volunteers to rate their level of disgust towards different types of body odor belonging to themselves and others. They were also asked to respond to statements like "Sitting next to someone who has red sores on their arm", and "Facts show that we have to be harder against crime and sexual immorality, in order to uphold law and order".


Those who rated the smells as more disgusting were more likely to rate the authoritarian comments and other statements of disgust more highly.

US volunteers were also asked how likely they were to vote for 2016 presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Those who reported feeling more disgusted were slightly more inclined to vote Trump.

Trump exploited people's sensitivity to disgust a lot during his 2016 presidential bid. Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock

“Our results show that about 10% of authoritarianism – ie how people vary in this regard – could be explained by their body odor disgust sensitivity,” said Oloffson, reports the Guardian

Does this mean authoritarian attitudes can be challenged? Oloffson thinks so: "Beliefs can be updated when we learn new things."


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