Political ideology and party identification are not just about political beliefs and values, they speak to nothing less than a person’s world view.
It stands to reason, therefore, conservatives and liberals must differ in many ways, including biological, homo sapiens being biological animals. As an example, studies have found that people are more attracted to the smell of those whose immune systems are compatible with their own.
Research has found that political attitudes, rooted as they are in personality and basic beliefs, also have a biological component. Conservatives, for example, have stronger disgust reactions than liberals, and some early brain-scan data hints that the two groups process risk and fear differently.
The latest discovery: Conservatives and liberals actually smell different!
A recent experiment found that conservatives like the smell of other conservatives, while liberals find the smell of conservatives repugnant.
Stephanie Pappas reports for Live Science, Sept. 22, 2014, that a new study finds that people prefer the scents of those who share their political attitudes. This small, subconscious preference could explain why people gravitate toward mates whose politics mesh with theirs — perhaps compatibility has a smell.
Hatemi and his colleagues knew that a great deal of research has shown that spouses tend to match each other’s political views more so than any other trait beside religion. A longer relationship does not lead to greater convergence in views, suggesting this matching occurs because people pick someone politically similar to them in the first place. But Hatemi and his colleagues have found that people tend to avoid trumpeting their politics when angling for dates, suggesting political attitudes don’t contribute much to first impressions.
To see if smell might also offer clues about a person’s basic attitudes, Hatemi’s team recruited 146 volunteers, ages 18 to 40, from a university and the surrounding city, and asked them about their political beliefs.
The researchers asked 21 of these volunteers, all of whom identified as strongly liberal or strongly conservative, to wear gauze pads taped under their armpits for 24 hours straight. To prevent odorous contamination, the participants couldn’t shower, wear perfumes or deodorant, or even sleep in the same bed with another person during this period, among other rules.
Next, 125 other volunteers were asked to take a whiff of these pads, without knowing from whom they came. In other words, the sniffers don’t know whether the pads came from a conservative or a liberal. The volunteers are then asked to:
- Rate the appeal of the smells of the pads on a five-point scale; and
- Guess the ideology of the person whose sweat it was.
- Conservatives liked the smell of conservatives, and were neutral about the smell of liberals.
- Liberals were neutral about the smell of other liberals, but didn’t like the smell of conservatives.
The researchers had controlled for demographic factors. Statistically speaking, the findings were less than 10% likely to be by chance alone.
Hatemi cautioned that the findings should not be taken as an argument that culture and society don’t shape politics or love, but rather that subtle, innate influences might play a small role.
Another of the study’s researcher, Brown University professor of international relations Rose McDermott, said there could be good reason for romantic chemistry to take ideology into account: “I suspect that, ultimately, it relates to the fact that people who align politically are more likely to stay together long enough to raise their kids successfully to reproductive age, on average, and to garner the social support necessary to do so, because people like to be around them more on average because they are not fighting all the time.”
The researchers reported their findings online Sept. 2 in the American Journal of Political Science.
Even if the smell preference holds, it’s unclear how much it matters in real-life dating and mating choices, because a spritz of cologne or a shower could erase the whole odor.
So my advice is:
Before you commit yourself, make sure you really know your girl- or boy-friend. Get a good whiff of their body without perfume or cologne. LOL