Individuals who experience more disgust also tend to show a higher dispositional preference for order, according to a new study published in Cognition and Emotion, which could partly explain why there is a positive relationship between disgust sensitivity and political conservatism.
Previous research has found that the way a person’s brain responds to a single disgusting image is enough to reliably predict whether he or she identifies politically as liberal or conservative.
“We propose that trait disgust is associated with the specific motivation to create and maintain order. This preference for order, in turn, increases the likelihood of endorsing conservative policies (which typically seek to strengthen traditional institutions and norms),” the authors of the new study said.
“We suggest that the desire to maintain order that is motivated by trait disgust may extend beyond the physical environment to maintaining an orderly social environment.”
For their study, the researchers analyzed data from six different samples, which included 1,485 individuals from the United States and Canada.
In all six datasets, personality was assessed using the Big Five Aspect Scale, which breaks down each of the Big Five traits — neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, openness — into two aspects. Importantly, conscientiousness is divided into industriousness and orderliness.
After controlling for age and gender, the researchers found that orderliness but not industriousness mediated the relationship between disgust sensitivity and political conservatism.
In other words, those who scored higher on measures of orderliness tended to also score higher on measures of disgust sensitivity, which in turn was associated with the endorsement of conservative beliefs.
“Taken together, these findings suggest that higher levels of trait disgust promote the motivation to maintain order, which contributes to the endorsement political ideologies that promote societal order,” the researchers said.
The major caveat for this study is that it is correlational. “Although the present research cannot make causal claims, it highlights the role that personality plays in the relationship between basic emotions and political orientation,” the researchers explained.
The study, “An orderly personality partially explains the link between trait disgust and political conservatism“, was authored by Xiaowen Xu, Annika K. Karinen, Hanah A. Chapman, Jordan B. Peterson, and Jason E. Plaks.