Political opponents smell worse than people you agree with: study
A new study published in the American Journal of Political Science has determined that individuals believe that people who agree with them politically smell better than their ideological opponents.
Researchers from Brown, Harvard, and Pennsylvania State University hypothesized that because scent plays a central role in our attraction to potential mates, and because long-term spousal partners tend to share political views, it is likely that an affinity for people who smell like political allies “exists prior to marriage.”
Rose McDermott, Dustin Tingley, and Peter Hatemi tested their hypothesis by gathering body odors from 146 people and having them describe their political ideologies. They narrowed the group down to the 10 most definitively liberal and conservative candidates, who were then asked to wear gauze pads in their armpits for 24 hours.
The researchers then selected a group of 125 individuals, had them self-describe their political orientation, and had them smell all 20 samples and rate them on a 5-point scale of attractiveness.
These 125 subjects rated the body odor of those whose self-described political ideology similar was to their own as being more attractive than the body odor of their ideological opponents.
As Vox noted, the researchers even provided one particularly compelling example — a female participant who found a politically compatible male’s body odor “the best perfume I ever smelled.”
Just moments earlier, however, a female of the opposite political persuasion was exposed to the same odors and complained that the sample had “gone rancid.”
The researchers used the sense of smell in the study in large part because political orientation has been demonstrated to rely heavily on emotional factors.
“While most senses operate through the brain stem and thalamus, the olfactory bulb has direct connections with the seat of emotion in the amygdala and the center of memory in the hippocampus,” the researchers wrote.
“This indicates the importance that natural selection placed on odorants, in some ways privileging speed of learning by smell over that offered by vision or hearing.”