The upshot was that, contrary to the argument advanced by some scholars and by some popular-writing commentators, neither of these risk perceptions appeared to be distinctively related to disgust sensitivities. These perceptions, and some related policy preferences, were not any more meaningfully correlated with disgust sensitivity than were myriad other risks perceptions and policy preferences that aren’t plausibly viewed as disgust related (e.g., falling down elevator shafts, flying on commercial airliners, raising income taxes for the wealthy, enacting campaign finance laws, etc.).
But here’s another thing: the disgust sensitivity measure we used—the so called “pathogen disgust” scale (PDS), which is supposed to measure a disposition to be disgusted and hence afraid of sources of bodily invasion—has some truly weird interactions with political outlooks.
Take a look for yourself:
Basically, increasing disgust sensitivity makes the group that otherwise is inclined to perceive low risk or express low support for risk-abating policies experience an inversion of that sensibility. As a result, on issues where there was substantial political polarization, there is a convergence of positions among the citizens of highest disgust sensitivity.
Why would that be?
What’s especially weird is that PDS is supposed to predict political conservativism; yet here we have high-disgust conservatives clearly behaving more like liberals on climate change, and high-disgust liberals behavior more like conservatives (it didn’t in our survey; the relationship between disgust and conservative outlooks was trivail in magnitude: r = 0.09).
Maybe I just don’t feel very imaginative today, but I am not inclined to come up with a story that fits the data.
Instead I’m experiencing a bit of uncertainty about whether I should really be trusting the “pathogen disgust” scale. It seems, basically, to be eliciting a kind of generic survey agreement bias; it’s influence is most detectable only in that portion of the population whose members aren’t already inclined to agree with the survey item and who thus can move in concern without the constraint of a ceiling effect in the outcome measure. . . .
But what do others think?