Sniff sniff. What's that smell?
Smells to me like a BS study. But let me back up and explain:
A group of scientists from the University of Arkansas recently teamed up to experiment how our sense of smell can sway our political bias. That sounds legitimately interesting enough, right? But what they discovered was pretty disgusting (and I'm not talking about the stink).
Lead researcher Patrick Stewart and his colleagues recruited 57 people to answer a questionnaire based on their socio-political views of things like porn, abortion and same-sex marriage. They were asked to rank each questionnaire item on a scale from "not at all disgusting" to "extremely disgusting." These participants were grouped into two different rooms: one was odorless and one was stuffed with putrid cotton swabs soaked in butyric acid (think vomit).
The results? Research concluded that 25.9 percent of the (not-so) lucky people in the stinky room reportedly had an extremely negative response to the question regarding gay marriage.
"It is possible that exposure to a disgusting odorant caused increased feelings of disgust," the researchers hypothesize, "which in turn, activated the harm avoidance system and motivated a desire for purity (cleanliness)."
Okay, let's stop right there for a second. For the record, I'm supportive of gay marriage so I'm not about to jump up and defend anyone who is anti-gay marriage ... but are you really trying to tell me that the entire conservative anti-gay demographic can be swayed because their placed in a room full of funk? Explain to me how that logic works?
Let's break down the science a little further, shall we? Sure — our olfactory senses play a big part in our psychology. Odors can affect our mood, work performance and behavior in a number of ways. Scientists call this "associative learning" or "the process by which one event or item comes to be linked to another because of an individual's past experiences." After all, pheromones play a big part in why we fall in love with certain people.
Experiments highlighted by the Social Issues Research Center emphasize that our perception of smell only strongly sways a person in the direction of one opinion or the other when there is ambiguity. When participants in one study were asked to rate the attractiveness of different subjects (associated with different odors), only "average-looking" subjects could be suddenly perceived as beautiful or ugly. It couldn't transform a beautiful person into an ugly one. So, it's a matter of marginal "influence" — it shouldn't change someone's deep-seated beliefs.
So I'm not entirely buying this study, guys. Something smells fishy here. I think most people — conservative or liberal — have a little more mind over matter power than these researchers are giving them credit for. People aren't going to do a total backflip on their moral beliefs just because you stick them in a stinky room. If you study the results a little more closely, you'll see the caveat: these participants identified as being fairly conservative to begin with. There's your associative learning. They already entered the room with a bias. What bothers me about this study is that the research depicts the participants as being dissuaded against gay marriage entirely because of a nasty odor. But a bigot is a bigot — and a stinky bigot can't suddenly come out smelling like a rose.