Mind

Stinking to High Heaven

Exposure to bad smells increases people's conservative attitudes. 

By Hillary WatermanOct 2, 2014 12:00 AM
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Frank Camhi/Thinkstock

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It’s official: Some beliefs stink. Researchers have found that revulsion activates the brain’s harm-avoidance center, invoking notions of cleanliness and moral purity as a primal mechanism for avoiding disease.

In a small study, people exposed to the smell of butyric acid, the putrid-smelling essence of vomit, subsequently expressed dramatically more conservative attitudes about premarital sex, pornography and religion — including increased belief in Biblical truth — than those who sniffed an odorless concoction. The topic of same-sex marriage proved especially repugnant to those who had been subjected to the stench.

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