How to ‘accurately’ predict whether someone is a liberal or conservative without asking a single question.

August 15, 2020

Curious to know if that anti-social colleague at work votes Democrat or Republican? Or how about that reclusive neighbor of yours, who is he voting for this upcoming election?

Too uncomfortable to ask? No problem. Just show them a few disgusting images and observe their reaction. Because in theory, doing so would accurately give you a hint of their political affiliation. 

OK, so that may not be the brightest idea. If you barely know someone, you should avoid showing them gross images of any kind.

But again, hypothetically speaking, if you were to do so your odds of guessing correctly would be pretty good, apparently.

The way it works is like this:

If the persons reacts more strongly to grotesque images, such as bodily waste or mutilated body of an animal, then there’s a good chance they are a conservative.

This is according to Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Lab and Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC in Roanoke, Virginia.

Aside from his executive role at Virginia Tech, Montague is also a neuroscientist, author, and psychiatry professor.

In 2014, Montague lead a team of international researchers to test his experiment on 83 volunteers who agreed to have their brains scanned by a Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI) machine.  

The volunteers where shown 80 different images that were classified into four different categories: disgusting, threatening, pleasant and neutral.

The procedure was simple. The researchers showed each participant random images and observed their brain reaction to each image as they sat inside the MRI machine.

According to Montague, the results were very clear. “A single disgusting image was sufficient to predict each subject’s political orientation” he said, “I haven’t seen such clean predictive results in any other functional-imaging experiments in our lab or others.”

The other three categories of images (threatening, pleasant and neutral) did not cause liberals and conservatives to react any differently.

For Montague, this is conclusive evidence that “the brain’s response to a single disgusting image was enough to predict an individual’s political ideology.”

In 2018, a study published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research confirmed Montague’s findings: Liberals were less likely to squeamish when shown disgusting images, whereas conservatives were more likely to turn away quickly from such imagery.

Perhaps this explains why, for example, conservatives are almost unanimously against abortion. The simple thought of an unborn baby being ripped apart to death is abhorrent to those on the political right.

Or why conservatives are statistically more generous when it comes to non-political donations and charity work that helps feed the poor and heal the sick. Most conservatives would attribute their Christian faith to these virtues. 

As for the scientific reason why liberals and conservatives’ brains are wired differently, is not exactly clear from these studies. Though we can probably assume that a person’s childhood development and life experiences has something to do with it.