Scientists have now demonstrated that fear has an odour and we really do react to it. Alexander Prehn-Kristenen and his team put pads under the armpits of students waiting to give an oral presentation and students who were cycling. Both were equally sweaty but what a difference!
Next the researchers scanned the brains of 28 students while the two sources of odour were delivered to their noses using an adapted oxygen mask. Half the time, the students couldn’t even perceive an odour. They were also unable to distinguish between the two odour sources, rating them as equally pleasant. Crucially, however, the participants’ brain responses to the two odours did differ significantly.
The brains of students smelling the sweat of their fearful college mates reacted in the areas of the brain that produce emotion, empathy, portray other people’s mental states, separate self from other. The fact that this occurred even with odours too faint to consciously detect explains why sometimes there is a “whiff of fear” that affects us. (Full story here)
This led me to think about the studies that show that conservatives are more sensitive to disgust than liberals.
People who squirm at the sight of bugs or are grossed out by blood and guts are more likely to be politically conservative, new studies find.
There have been other studies that show that the same facial muscles activated in physical disgust are also activated in reactions of moral disgust. (See here).
Clean people are less judgmental.
Conservatives tend to be more tidy.
There seems to be an offsetting behavioural pattern here in which disgust is ameliorated by retaining an environment which is less likely to engage it. Now here is my question: are conservatives more sensitive to fear?
It seems to me that people who react in the exaggerated manner I’ve observed, on everything from same-sex marriage to the weight of the new Surgeon General in the U.S. display a heightened brain response, which is bizarre.
If a clean room can help conservative judgmentalism, maybe air freshener might assist with fear?