DAVID PIZARRO: Welcome. I have the privilege of introducing myself--
--which means it will be very short. My name is Dave Pizarro. I am Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Cornell University, almost not Assistant Professor. We'll see how it goes today. And I am trained as a social psychologist. And the area that I study mostly is the effect of emotion on judgment, and in particular, how we go about making moral judgments.
So today, I'm going to tell you a little bit about that research. If you have any other questions that I didn't cover in my introduction of myself, I will leave enough time at the end, about 15 minutes, for any questions you might have. But I have to say-- thank you for that introduction, Dave.
OK, now, showtime. It really is a privilege. As I was driving here, I was thinking how many people said no before they got my name on the list.
So I estimate about 16 and a half. So it really is a privilege to be able to speak to you. And I hope that I have something interesting for you to say. The way that I'll talk will be fairly informal because as I'm telling you a bit about my research and research of others, I think it's just more fun to tell you how we started thinking about these topics and how these projects came about. So I will do that. If there's anything that's woefully unclear in the middle of the talk, please feel free to interrupt me.
So I'm interested in moral judgment. A lot of times when I say that I'm interested in moral judgment, when people have a reaction, that, well, what do you mean by morality? Well, real morals don't exist. There's no such thing. It's all subjective. I want to avoid that entirely because it may very well be that that's the truth of the matter, or it may not be. I personally don't think it is.
What I'm interested in is what people think. What do people think about morality? And I hope I don't have to take too much time to convince you that most people have very strong opinions that there is a moral right and wrong. So when I flash words like these, phrases like these, you probably have an immediate reaction, maybe, that that's right or wrong. So drug use, clearly, is right, vegetarianism wrong. Right?
We're all on the same page here. Also, we make quick, immediate evaluations of people. So there's research that shows within split seconds of meeting somebody for the first time, you've evaluated them. And one of the domains in which you evaluate them is sometimes called trustworthiness. But it's something that's tainted with morality. It's something about the goodness or badness of an individual. And so when I flash these images, we get the sense these are good people or these are bad people.
So I think, and I think there's enough evidence to show that we do this a lot. We do it easily. We like doing it, even. We write stories about good and bad. We write stories about good and evil. And it's in many ways second nature, or first nature, at that.
Another thing that you might notice, though, about this is you may have had an emotional reaction to some of the phrases that I put up on the screen. And this we know is true, that morality comes infused with emotion. We know that a lot of our judgments are infused with emotions. We don't need to look at modern psychology to get this insight. So this is Aristotle, one of my favorite quotes, even though I am not a philosopher.
"The emotions are all those feelings that so change men as to affect their judgments. Such are anger, pity, fear, and the like with their opposites. Take, for instance, the emotion of anger. Here, we must discover what the state of mind of angry people is, who the people are with whom they usually get angry, and on what grounds they get angry with them. It is not enough to know one or even two of these points. The same is true of the other emotions."
Aristotle is being a psychologist here. He's saying if you really want to influence people, you should know all about the human emotions because these will deeply influence their judgment. If you can control their emotions, you can control what they believe. Right? Reading this with slight changes in language is almost like reading a modern paper in psychology on the role of emotion in judgment. A lot of the points that Aristotle makes are points that people make now.
The study of morality, in particular, even the Greeks knew that it was infused with emotion. For some reason, when psychologists decide to start studying morality, they sort of ignored emotion altogether. So when I started studying morality in graduate school, it was sort of a dead field. This was in the year [MUMBLES].
And really, the study of morality was the study of cognition, the study of cognitive development and just cognition in general. This had to do with some philosophical baggage and some baggage that came along in just general psychology, as well. But people who studied morality and psychology had been deeply influenced by the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, who held that emotions should not play a role in moral judgment. This claim that emotions shouldn't be involved in moral judgment turned into a psychological claim that if a judgment was a true moral judgment, emotions wouldn't be involved. It was the domain of reasoning. OK?
Lawrence Kohlberg, who really is the big granddad of the study of morality and psychology, was a Kantian. He believed that in order to understand morality, you had to understand how reasoning works. And how do you understand how reasoning works? Well, taking a page from the Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, he said, well, let's study how reasoning develops. And then we can understand how morality develops.
So from the '60s when Kohlberg published his dissertation all the way into the '90s, the study of morality was the study of cognitive development in the tradition Kohlberg. However, the study of emotion in psychology was exploding. It just didn't happen to touch the field of moral psychology. So when I came around, a couple of things happened. And it wasn't me, [CHUCKLES] but I was very happy that it happened.
A couple of papers were published in 2001 that were very, very influential that pointed to the fact that we had been ignoring this whole time in the study of morality we had been ignoring the role that emotions played. So one of these was a study published in Science by the psychologist Joshua Greene, who's at Harvard, using fMRI techniques that emotions were deeply involved in many of the moral intuitions that we have. Another one was a review of literature by a psychologist at the University of Virginia who argued, look, as psychologists we know already how deeply emotions influence every domain of judgment, pointing to a host of studies. He said it's ridiculous that we ignore this in the study of morality.
So the field of moral psychology exploded when emotion took over. And that's sort had been happening for the last 10 years. I've been lucky enough to be part of that in the last 10 years. And one of the things that's really interested me is one emotion in particular. That's what I'm going to talk to you about today. It really is the case that-- [CLEARS THROAT] first of all, I have to apologize. I'm a little sick. I don't-- well, I always sound this way, but not in the voice. Disgust was an emotion that intrigued me, not necessarily because most of our moral judgments are infused with disgust, right? We make a lot of moral judgments that have nothing to do with the emotion of disgust. But the ones that do involve disgust are really, really interesting.
And the emotion of disgust in and of itself, taking morality out of it, is a really, really interesting emotion. So let me give you a definition that's as good as any. This is from a wonderful book by a legal scholar named William Ian Miller. He wrote a sort of a cultural history of disgust. He's not a scientist, but this may as well be a scientific definition. "A sense of aversion to something perceived as dangerous because of its powers to contaminate, infect, or pollute by proximity, contact, or ingestion."
Now, this is a broad definition. And Miller wants it that way because it contains a lot of influences that maybe you don't think intuitively would be discussed. But I think he makes a compelling case that the power of contagion by anything dirty is sort of all in the same class of emotional reaction. All right.
So this, if you can make it out, is a zoomed-in face making the disgust facial reaction, facial expression. For those people who like doing things like categorizing emotions-- they make lists of the emotions that are presumed to be basic-- facial expression plays a large role. There are a few emotions that seem to be expressed in the face no matter where you look. So this is the characteristic facial expression involved in disgust, so wrinkling of the nose, the raising of the lips. And it often involves, even though in adults you can't tell very much, expulsion of the noxious substance that might be contaminating you in the mouth.
And we'll talk a little bit about the roots of disgust in the oral domain. Right? So you can put a bitter solution in a baby's mouth. They might not do the full-fledged wrinkling of the nose. But they very-- probably don't do this-- but you can do it with quinine. That's it, right? Just get a little Benadryl afterwards. The baby will go like that. By the way, what a bad career choice to talk about dirty, filthy things.
So please, forgive me. All right. You may be familiar with some of these images. This is from a famous psychologist, Paul Ekman, who took a cue from Darwin, who really in 1872 wrote a wonderful book on "The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals" that got ignored for about 100 years in psychology, unfortunately. Paul Ekman went around the world to try to figure out which of the emotions were recognized universally in the face. So he had a catalog of six basic emotions. Didn't matter where you went, people seemed to be able to generate it, and they seem to be able to understand what it meant. right. And disgust is one of these. If you can't tell which one is disgust--
--maybe we can set up an appointment. OK.
One of the interesting things about disgust is not only that there are presumed universal elicitors, and I want to say right at the beginning of this, well, in the middle of it, that there is really not that much research on this. And so the research on disgust really in the last 10 years has sort of exploded. And by exploded, I mean exponentially. Somebody posted the growth of articles that contained the word disgust in scientific journals, and I don't know if it's really exponential, but really looks exponential.
But still, there is a lot that we don't know, especially in the cross-cultural domain. But the interesting thing about these elicitors are not only that people across all cultures seem to find things like feces, urine, blood, vomit, bodily discharge, with one exception-- and every time I ask my class, somebody gives me the very wrongest answer you should ever give. It's tears.
Tears do not appear to disgust. It's usually a boy. All right. So one of the features of disgust-- and this is being video taped-- is that these elicitors are quite rigid. And what I mean by that they're rigid is as somebody who's tried to manipulate emotions in a lab, I can tell you that it's actually quite difficult to make people genuinely feel sad and angry, even afraid. You've got to go through a lot to try to get these emotions.
And sure, people will check the little list that says, were you afraid when you saw the horror movie? They'll say yes. And you can try to hook up physiological equipment, but that's not always very efficient. Disgust is unlike most of those emotions because with one word and with one image in particular, I can make you feel disgust really, really easily. So turn away if you don't want to be disgusted. I'm actually very easily disgusted. I use the same pictures over and over again. So this is just teeth, not my teeth.
A friend of mine is a dermatologist, and she gives me access to this data bank of skin disease. All right, OK. You can look now, if you [INAUDIBLE]. So it's quite easy to do. And I have to say that one of the reasons that I really enjoyed studying disgust when I first did it is because it was so easy to get people to feel disgust. There's no doubt that somebody is feeling full-blown disgust when you show them something, and they make this face. All right.
A lot of work in emotion, actually, the psychology of emotion, one of the reasons it explored so much was because of the sort of advent of brain imaging techniques. And one of the first things that people wanted to do when they got these brain scanners that could measure in almost real-time brain activity is make people feel emotions. So everybody was very curious about what parts of the brain cause certain emotions.
Disgust, the answer is very complicated. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that there is a disgust part of the brain. In fact, the parts of the brain that are usually implicated in disgust, the anterior insula, is implicated in so many other things. And, in fact, sometimes when people say they're feeling disgust, they're not showing insula activation, but it's hard to know what's going on. But I just want to point this out because some people like to see images of the brain because they think that it's important.
But it's really not that critical to any of the research, I'm going to tell you. There are some very interesting studies, however. There are people with natural lesions, so Huntington's disease that kills a bundle of nerves that happens to coincide with the insula and some other areas. They have impairments in their ability to recognize disgust and not other emotions. And some epileptic patients are being prepped for surgery, the insula's deep down inside, so it's hard to study by actually getting in there. You can image it. But in epileptic patients, you can show them disgust images and get specific electrodes that measure neuronal activity. And the insula's going crazy.
But the insula goes crazy for a lot. You show a picture of a food or a naked person, the insula's going to fire a lot. So it's hard to know exactly. It's more like a connection. It's like a network of connections that are involved, in this case. All right. One of the interesting things about disgust, and if any of you have children, you'll know that it actually emerges later than you might want it to.
So a lot of the work on disgust, and even the work that I'm going to talk about, hinges on this understanding that disgust must have evolved through natural selection to protect us from ingesting bad stuff, right, to keep us from putting poisons in our mouth. It's consistent with a lot of what we know about how disgust works, what makes us disgusted.
What it's not consistent with is the very time when you would want a kid to not put something poisonous in their mouth, they don't have it at all. And so I'm going to show you-- this was actually this morning. I never pander this badly to the audience, but this, I couldn't help but do this experiment. And I did it this morning. This is using my iPad that your tuition paid for. No.
I took picture of-- this my daughter, six-year-old daughter. Thank you. That's her normal expression when she's with me, at least. All right. I asked her a series of questions. I said, what if this happened? All right. So the top left--
--what if you stepped in dog poop?
All right? What if your friend threw up during lunch? This actually happened to her.
DAVID PIZARRO: What if you had to eat a plate of fish? She's actually a vegetarian.
And fish. I was actually raised vegetarian as well. And so I'm raising her vegetarian. And we're both very disgusted by fish and [INAUDIBLE]. And this one, I just put as my control condition, but also to illustrate a point I want to make later. It's a little dark. She's trying to make a mock sad face when I asked her, what if someone stole your money? She happened to be counting her money at the time.
And she was trying to communicate that she was sad. But, in fact, it was really just a mock face of sadness, because that's not what she looks like when she's sad. That, on the other hand, she was gagging. These are real disgust reactions. So it illustrates how easy it is.
The other thing that I want to illustrate is that it's very easy to show you one picture of a static image that's posed and say, this is the disgust face. But life is a lot sloppier than that. The disgust face is generally going to involve activation of these upper lips, muscles that wrinkle the nose, the levator labii. They lift the lips. But in real time, you get a lot of variation.
Now, she's six. She experiences disgust, as you can tell. One thing that she hasn't gotten to, which studies show kids are just getting to now, is when I asked her, when I showed her this slide, and I said, what emotion is this? Her first response was, I don't know. Anger? Her second response was happiness, which she was just deducing because of the teeth. She could see the teeth.
Children at age six have started to experience disgust. Right around age four or five, they're already experiencing disgust. Potty training? No. You would want it to be around during potty training. But they're still having a lot of trouble recognizing the face of disgust. That's not true for those other basic emotions that I showed you. Right? So kids are late to the disgust game in a way that sort of interesting, given that the general understanding is that this emotion, like others, evolved to serve a specific function.
Fear exists because our ancestors who actually felt it were more likely to run away from the bear. Those who didn't, didn't live to survive or reproduce, right? The same thing is thought of disgust, that it protects you. The name betrays the oral origins, right, that it's supposed to protect you from eating things that might make you very sick or kill you. Right? And that's why these things in particular that are disease-bearing would actually be universal elicitors of disgust. So there's a lot of work that points-- starting with Darwin, actually, who was one of the first people to discuss disgust-- to this evolution origin.
Some evidence for this is that when you actually measure using measures of electrical activity in the face, visual imaging, you can see that the same activation is happening when people ingest a bitter substance as when you show them a picture like the ones that I just showed you. It's the same thing. I don't know that you needed this to do it. They also included another-- a moral judgment scenario, which also showed the same thing. All right.
So what about morality, though? This has all been sort of about the disgust protecting you from ingesting harmful substances. It seems to be the case, though, that disgust is an emotion that's often involved in many of our moral beliefs and judgments. Richard Shweder is a cultural psychologist at the University of Chicago. He's one of the first people to point out that there are ethical systems that are very unlike the ones that most likely you and I grew up in that emphasize not just rights and harm and fairness and justice, but a whole host of other moral ideas that have to do with purity, keeping the soul pure, keeping the body pure. And they often are tied to direct commands, divine commands.
And it turns out most of the world has a morality that includes this whole range of moral notions that it just so happens that educated Westerners, in particular, educated liberal Westerners, have sort of removed from the moral domain. So Jonathan Haidt has argued that there are possibly five general moral intuitions, classes of intuitions, that drive moral judgment of all sorts, prohibitions against harm, prescriptions for fairness. Group loyalty, authority and respect, and purity and divinity are three that I as a-- well, I don't know about educated, but as a fairly liberal Westerner-- I focus on these. That's what I think morality is. A lot of the rest of the world, including a large part of our country, focuses on these other foundations. All right.
In the ethical systems, especially that have to do with purity and divinity, disgust is often referred to as a moral emotion. It's a reaction. It's a reaction that people have to moral violations of the purity or divinity sort. It seems intrinsically linked to many of the moral judgments these individuals make. And as Haidt argues, even if we don't actually explicitly think that these are moral foundations, they're available to us, which means that inducing disgust may actually cause you to have moral judgments that are more in line with people who have moral codes that are influenced by these purity and divinity foundations.
And so as it turns out, a lot of research started to demonstrate that inducing disgust can change the way that you make moral judgments. In particular, this was about judgments of other people for wrongdoing. So if I ask you, Joe Stole $50 from his mom, how wrong do you think that was, or how much blame do you think Joe deserves? If I had shown you those pictures of like the diseased mouth and stuff, you might actually think that he deserves more blame, that the act in and of itself was more wrong.
And it's not just negativity. It doesn't seem to affect other judgments that are not related to morality in the same way. It seems to trigger sort of a punitive, harsh, moral judgment, especially in the treatment of others. So these studies, using a variety of methods-- I'm going to show you one right now-- showed that disgust has this general influence of making people sort of harsh moral judges.
This is actually some slides I stole from a colleague of mine at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They were interested in skipping the pictures. They want to get straight to that bitter taste that seems to have the same influence on your facial expression, and probably on similar emotional reaction. They gave individuals either sweet liquids, neutral liquids like water, or the sweetish bitter stuff.
And then they asked people-- this is just one of the things they asked-- Tim is a graduate student. He likes to have library books at home to help him with his research. But the library won't allow him to check on him or books since he has so many overdue. So he started to simply leave with the books from the library without checking them out. By the way, there's a fascinating study. A philosopher actually did this. Books on ethics are the least returned books.
It's one of the most brill-- and you don't even have to do a study. You just go and like look through the records. It's brilliant. All right. So this isn't my chart because it's too imprecise. A philosopher made this chart. There's imprecision here. Higher numbers indicate more harshness, more moral blame, more wrong. I mean, you can see that the bitter taste made them view the act as more wrong.
This experiment became more interesting. When they looked at the data, something that I'm going to talk about now, this relationship was driven by political conservatives. Why? So one of the things that Jonathan Haidt points out is that when I said, for instance, that harm and fairness and justice, these seem to be characteristic of the morality that educated Western liberals have, Jonathan Haidt points out that in our institutions, this is the sort of morality that we think everybody has. But a large part of our nation actually endorses those other foundations, as well.
Conservatives, no matter how you cut it, conservatives are more influenced by their intuitions when it comes to authority, loyalty, and purity and divinity. So I'm using purity and divinity interchangeably, but understand that it doesn't require divinity. OK. I hope to have some explanation for why this might be the case. All right.
But it's not just that disgust makes you in general harsher. I mean, we can show that in the lab. We can show that pretty much any moral violation that I ask you, if you're feeling disgust, you're going to be harsher. And it's interesting that it's really specific to moral judgment and not other sorts of evaluation. But the reason that I got interested in disgust in the first place is that it was such a-- it seems to be such a powerful rhetorical tool to convince people that not just all moral violations are wrong, but that some people, in particular, and some acts in particular are extra wrong. Right?
And I'm not at all the first person to point this out. Martha Nussbaum, philosopher, has an entire book on legal theory and disgust and what it does. Surprisingly, they're not psychology. But I'll leave that there.
Thus throughout history, certain disgust properties-- sliminess, bad smell, stickiness, decay, foulness-- have repeatedly and monotonously been associated with Jews, women, homosexuals, untouchables, lower class people. All of those are imagined as tainted by the dirt of the body. So this is not just I'm feeling disgust because I was just shown an image and now, I'm given a neutral target, and this is influencing me. It's that disgust in particular seems to affect my judgments of some people and some acts. At least that's the intuition. And that seems to be the strategy that people use.
This is something I found when I was a graduate student, first interested looking through Nazi propaganda. This is actually a children's book. I didn't know that they wrote children's books, the Nazis did. I thought they were very busy just being mean.
"Just look at these guys! The louse-infested beards! The filthy protruding ears. Those stained, fatty clothes-- Jews often have an unpleasant sweetish odor. If you have a good nose, you can smell the Jews." All right. So this is an appeal to the disgust reaction, right, to tag it to these people, this group or this individual. And it seems to be effective. It seems to be a powerful, rhetorical tool.
A more modern-day example comes from some of the rhetoric that people use to try to convince you that homosexuality is wrong, or that people, gays and lesbians, are actually not worthy of respect. This is from a website that I put it up there because for academic reasons. But don't feel the need to look it up. And by the way, I'm happy to make my slides available to everybody because you're all taking notes so carefully.
Gays are "worthy of death for their vile-- sex practices." "filthy," like "dogs eating their own vomit and sows wallowing in their own feces." This, again, is an appeal to a very sort of corporeal act that's intended to induce disgust. They remind you that these people are filthy. And I would like to point out this is not the way in which we sometimes use the word disgust when we're saying that there's a moral violation.
So people often say that used car salesmen disgust me or the politics of that guy disgusts me. It's up for debate whether that's really disgust. And that's not what I'm talking about here. What I'm talking about is this various-- what researchers call core disgust reaction that is tying, right, tying something directly to a thought that would induce disgust in you because of the reasons we know disgust exists.
What I always tell my students is look, whatever your stance on these things, if you're going to think that something is wrong because it's gross, then we do a lot of wrong things. And so for instance, the sexual act is disgusting to you, and that's why you think it's wrong, well, then, two very ugly people having sex is really wrong. Right?
So that's independent of any argument you might have that might stand or fall for other reasons. But, you know, you want to think this through. There's a lot of disgusting things that we do in private that we don't want necessarily to view as disgusting. And I'll get to that at the end because I suspect people might have an opinion on this. OK.
What we started with was-- and I've got to speed up a little bit. But the question is, is this really an effective strategy? That is, do these appeals to disgust actually influence anybody in the way that the people say writing this propaganda think that it will? And one of the ways that we thought to ask this question, or answer this question was there's plenty of research that had been done before us showing that there is variability in how easily disgusted people are.
So I told you earlier on that I'm actually really easily disgusted. There's just a normal distribution like everything else. And you can measure this with a simple questionnaire. And this questionnaire actually does a pretty good job of predicting, for instance, what you would do if I brought you into the lab and asked you to do disgusting things. Some people have absolutely no problem with this. In fact, most college males have absolutely no problem--
--doing very, very disgusting thing. There's one finding-- it's a huge finding-- is that women report being way more sensitive to disgust than men do. So we thought if disgust is being used as a persuasive technique, it should work better on those people who actually can be easily disgusted. Right? So those phrases that I read to you from the website, or from the Nazi propaganda, or the Martha Nussbaum stuff, did that impact you in that visceral sense, all right, in the disgust sense, not in the moral sense?
Let me just give you some sample items from the questionnaire that's been developed. And it's been shown to reliably assess individual differences in the population. They simply ask you a series of questions. Here are some samples. "I try to avoid letting any part of my body touch the toilet seat in a public restroom, even when it appears clean." I always give this to my class and I say, the only question to me is, how many layers of toilet paper?
Because if you're not doing that-- but then they look at me puzzled. What are you talking about? And then I say, you weren't raised right. And then they yell at me.
"Even if I were hungry, I would not drink a bowl of my favorite soup if it had been stirred by a used, but thoroughly washed flyswatter." So you simply rate how much do you agree or disagree with these on a five point scale. This one is a scale that says how disgusted would you be, five being a lot. "While you're walking through a tunnel under a railroad track, you smell urine." There's a longer version of this that has about 32 items. There's a short one that has eight. They both do a pretty good job of predicting real-life behavior. OK.
We were interested in how disgust related to moral judgments. So along with Paul Bloom, a former advisor of mine at Yale University, we started looking at this disgust sensitivity questionnaire with a host of moral judgment items. And we kept finding nothing. So another adviser of mine said, can you just-- in this survey, can you include political orientation? Simple seven point scale says, on a scale of one to seven, how politically liberal or conservative are you?
And I kept getting back this relationship that people who said they were very easily disgusted were more likely to say they were politically conservative. Let me just say, I could just as easily say the people who are more liberal don't get disgusted very easily. And it might betray something about which way you think it ought to go.
So I ignored it because I actually do not want to touch politics with a 10 foot pole. It really frightens me. But I kept finding it over and over again. When I got to Cornell, Yoel Inbar, who was a graduate student here, said this is too fascinating. You can't just not keep this up. So we did. And we published a set of three studies, that discuss sensitivity. The more easily disgusted you reported being was correlated with political conservatism. Again, this is actually just easier to report positive correlations. I could say the more liberal you were, the less likely you were to be as easily disgusted.
But when we looked carefully, when we looked at all of the attitudes-- we had a battery of political attitudes-- we pre-tested and tested again, and found a whole host of possible attitudes you could have that would be classified as political. And we found that the only thing disgust sensitivity was picking up were these two. This is not to say that these were the only two in the world that it would pick up. But of all the ones that we tried, it was picking up on attitudes toward gay marriage and attitudes toward abortion.
So we sort of came back to the moral nature of the disgust reaction where we started by wanting to investigate this weird finding that we had gotten. And we came right back to it not being about other political attitudes, had nothing to do with economic, fiscal policy; had nothing to do with views on welfare, foreigners, death penalty, none of that. The only two were gay marriage and abortion.
In another series of studies in another paper, we also showed that it was related to implicit beliefs about homosexuality. And I can talk about that in the discussion about what I mean by implicit beliefs. But simply, what psychologists have developed are tests that can assess an attitude that you may not be willing to report. Some cases, you may not even know you might have through these sort of ingenious tasks. All right.
So this is just to show you. The dark bar is males. Higher numbers indicate opposition to gay marriage. This is from a Cornell sample right here. So even though our participants skew liberal, we have enough variability. And you see this relationship that individuals high in disgust, whether they're females or males, are more likely to report being opposed to gay marriage than individuals low in disgust. What this difference is showing you is that men are more likely to report being against gay marriage than women are.
And we've now-- well, so we had done this in a bunch of different samples. But let me show you sort of the-- I was nervous about this relationship. OK. I was nervous about this relationship because we had shown it over and over again, but I still didn't quite believe that we had-- and you should be asking yourself this question at this point. Look, there are a lot of other things that could explain this relationship.
It could be that conservatives in general have more money, and their homes are cleaner, whatever. You name it. It could be that there are personality differences. So in collaboration with Jonathan Haidt, who has a website where he's been collecting data on especially moral attitudes, we got what is the most ridiculous sample I've ever worked with. So the full sample was about 25,000 individuals who reported their attitudes. It's not representative in the sense that a sociologist or a political scientist might want. But it is representative in the sense that there is no group, and there is no attitude that's not represented in the sample.
And we controlled for everything that we could that might explain this relationship, including age, a self-reported religiosity and religious attendance, education levels, gender, ethnicity. What else did we-- income. Right? Importantly, we controlled for personality traits that we know already are related to political orientation. And even with all this, there is still this reliable relationship that people who report being politically conservative were more likely to say that they're easily disgusted. All right.
A colleague of mine sent this to me. And, again, I want to remind you that this really seems to be the case because conservatives, at least in this country, also happen to have attitudes in these particular domains, like gay marriage and abortion. And that's what seems to be driving this relationship. So a colleague sent this to me. Gay marriage is legal in Iowa. I didn't have to do any studies. Posted by anti-liberal, "Disgusting!" I really could have avoided five years work.
Now, the hypothesis that I wanted to defend, though, really relies on conservatism in this country being tied to particular views about, say, the legality or the morality of abortion or gay marriage. But that data set allowed us to look across 114 countries. And we kept finding that the same thing. I don't know what to make of this. All right?
So this is actually-- we submitted this because we're surprised by the data. The caveat is they are English speakers. So there are people who are familiar. We're not getting the Bushmen of the Kalahari here, right? These are people who log on to the internet and take studies. All right.
The other question that you ought to be asking you, and I'll conclude with by actually going through this very quickly because the story is very easy to tell, which is that I have shown you a relationship that is correlational, right? I'm arguing that moral attitudes seem to be related to a particular kind of emotional style, right? But really, in order to build this argument, that emotions are causing it, you have to try to actually demonstrate a causal link. And so there is a trade-off. You have to go into the lab, use various limited samples of subjects, very controlled environment, manipulate disgust, and actually see if it affects their moral or their political judgment in the way that we've been arguing, which leads us to groundbreaking science.
I cannot say that I invented this technique. I borrowed it from a colleague. But this is one of the most effective ways that we can make people disgusted in the lab without making it completely obvious that we're trying to disgust them. And so this is a noxious odor. It's what I say in the paper, because I'm actually so easily disgusted. I don't like to say fart spray. Grosses me out everything single time.
And you just spray a couple of sprays in the garbage can liner. And when participants walk into the-- I feel sorry for our RAs. There are some of your children are my RAs. And they probably-- think about it. We've shown that reliably, disgust makes people harsher judges of others. And these poor RAs have to like spray this foul odor. And then people walk in. They make this face. So this is a way of manipulating disgust. Half of the people who take our study, we have to rotate days to air out the room.
But we try to take care of this. All right. This is very quickly is just to simply show you-- this is a measure that's more subtle of attitudes toward individuals or groups. This is called a feeling thermometer measure. And it's plotted a little weirdly. But what this measure asks you to do is on a scale of 0 to 100, how warmly or coldly do you feel towards group X or individual X?
And what psychologists have found is that if you phrase the question in this way, people might not be willing to report that they actually dislike any individual or group. But they are willing-- this picks up on differences that other measures show people might have. It's a very easy way to do it. What this shows is that on the days in which the room smells bad, people are harsher in their evaluations of lesbian women and gay men, on the days that it smells bad.
Again, this is experimental, right? It's only on those days in which there's a bad smell. Importantly, we asked a whole bunch of other groups. We asked African-Americans, immigrants. You name it, we asked them. And this is the only one that seems to be affected, right? So there's some causal evidence that disgust is selectively affecting evaluation of certain groups, in this particular case, the group that's been over and over again tied to this language of disgust.
Another one, this is a student mine, Chelsea Helion, who borrowed this wonderful method that I'll use really quickly, but it's fun to illustrate. It turns out that our facial expressions of emotion aren't just sort of byproducts. They actually seem to work by giving us feedback. So when you smile, it actually does put you in a better mood. And researchers have shown this by manipulating how-- by just telling you to smile. There's what we call demand characteristics where I know that you're asking me to be happy, so I might report being happy. But if I tell you to put this pen in your mouth, and I say, clench it in your teeth-- I don't know whose this is.
We use fresh pens. Every participant opens a brand new pack. Clenching it between your teeth activates the muscles that are usually activated in a smile. This, in turn, makes you act as if you were more happy. So in studies where you're asked to rate cartoons for how funny they are, if you're clenching it like that, you rate it as funnier than if you do like this, which actually blocks you from being able to smile, right? Chelsea said, why don't we use this for disgust? There had been some other research showing that you could effectively block the influence of an emotion by blocking the facial display of that emotion.
So we had participants watch disgusting images when they kept their pens like this. This effectively prevented them from wrinkling their nose in the typical fashion. And so what we found was using the scenarios that other people had used to show that disgust makes you more severe in your moral judgments, this actually-- I don't have the graph here. But this wiped it out. The inability to make the disgust face blocked the influence that that emotion has been shown to have on moral judgment.
All right. Last thing, only because not even I believe this. But I promise you, it worked. There had been recently some work showing that washing your hands influenced a variety of judgments, right? And the thinking goes by dint of making cleanliness salient to you, a whole host of other concepts are salient. So we use cleanliness as a metaphor for morally good, upstanding, right? Your soul is clean, pure.
We were actually interested in whether having just cleaned your hand, you'd be more hypervigilant about contaminants in the environment. Again, the story that I told in the beginning about why disgust does what it does is that presumably, it's there to prevent you from getting contaminated from pathogens in the environment, right? That's the story that most disgust researchers believe. We had this intuition that having just washed up also makes you more vigilant of your environment.
So I had this. I was raised in California. I always got this feeling when you wash your car, you're very hypervigilant about avoiding puddles or parking under trees. You want to keep it clean, right? When I go get my teeth cleaned, I'm like really good at avoiding coffee and red wine. So we thought maybe having people wash their hands can actually make them be extra concerned with pathogens of the moral variety. What if they'd be actually just like a disgust manipulation, harsher in their moral judgments of others?
I'm going to actually cut to the chase in this paper because we thought we had a deep confound. We were just interested in moral judgment. We looked at the data, and it seemed to work. It seemed that people who had just washed their hands were actually more likely to be punitive in their moral evaluations of others. Again, these are no groups in particular. These were like Joe steals $50.
But then when I had the student Erik Helzer, who's a grad student here currently, look at the data, he said man, we messed up. People weren't randomly assigned correctly. It turns out that the people in the hand-washing condition just happen to be more politically conservative. And we already know that political conservatives just sort of report as a response style being harsher in their moral judgments. And so I was really bummed.
I said, is there any chance that we did something before they took the political orientation question? He said, no. I mean, they washed their hands after they filled out that political orientation questionnaire. And then he said, but wait. The RA stands here and says, fill out this political orientation questionnaire. And as part of the manipulation, we had a sign that said experimenters, please remember to wash your hands. Prevents the spread of the flu. And he says, it turns out, they probably could see that sign. And I said, all right, if seeing the sign makes them report being more politically conservative, I will graduate you right now.
So we ran the study again, this time doing it on purpose. So we made sure that every single time they filled it out right in front of the sign. And we got the moral judgment finding again. They're harsher on their moral judgement. But they were also more politically conservative. I
Said this is ridiculous. Mind you, I'm not saying that we're turning people into many conservatives or making liberals slightly more conservative. I think that that effect disappears within like three minutes. All right? I honestly don't think-- The press would ask me like, should we have in some polling places?
If that affects your vote, then we're all going to hell, I mean, in a handbasket. All right? So I think that it's temporary. So I said, this is how you can nail it. All right? Just go out on campus and ask people their political orientation either next to one of these thingies that you probably walk by here or on the other side.
So in the entrance of Uris Hall, we actually had people-- usually, when you walk in the big doors of Uris Hall next to the Statler, this thing is right here. This is not Uris Hall. What we did is we moved it to one side, and we had the RA say, hey, would you care to volunteer in a study? It's like literally three questions. I'm an undergrad, whatever. Can you take it over there by the hand sanitizer? Or we said, can you take it over there on that side of the hall. Now, I even said, make sure that we randomize whether it's on the right or the left because--
--somebody's going to say that. So we randomized whether it was on the right or on the left. And I promise you, OK, this time it's higher numbers indicate being more liberal. All right? And this is three items. How liberal or conservative are you in the social domain, in the moral domain, or in the fiscal domain? All three questions-- this is the three questions combined-- gave us this reliable pattern, such that individuals who took that questionnaire next to the hand sanitizing station reported being more conservative.
Now, we're not moving them a lot. This is the sum of the three scales. But we're moving them in a way that's actually, for psychology studies on political judgment, pretty decent. All right. So I'll end here.
I leave that with you because I'm not sure exactly-- I have theories about what's going on. But we're trying to nail the mechanism down. And I feel like a quack when I tell the story. And then I end with saying, we're still trying to find out the actual mechanism. But we're doing studies to see what's going on when you're feeling disgust, or maybe are you feeling more hypervigilant?
So we're doing actual perception studies to see if-- do you notice in your environment, are you more likely to notice the dirty tissue on the desk if I've just made you feel disgust? Does that hypervigilance actually make you more concerned about larger scale judgments, like the state of the country, something like that, right? So we're trying to tease this apart. Until then, I don't know.
I want to end, though, with this question. Leon Kass is a bioethicist for George W. Bush. He said, liberals have it wrong. Disgust ought to play an important role in moral judgment. And he said without disgust, "we're souls who have forgotten to shudder." So Leon Kass famously argued that one reason to not do human cloning was because he felt disgust at the thought of human cloning. Right? And that should inform you. And that's not a crazy idea. There are very reasonable people who think that emotions inform you for good reasons. Leon Kass apparently said that licking ice cream cones in public should therefore be wrong, illegal, as well, because that disgusted him.
And I've got to give it to him. If he did say that, he is carrying it to its logical extent. That it seems like a reasonable method. All right. I think that what I've shown though is that disgust-- if you buy the story that I told, that the reason we have disgust is literally to keep you from putting bad stuff in your mouth that might make you sick, that's on the face of it reason to think critically when I tell you that it can influence judgments in unrelated domains to actual sort of oral contamination pathogens. And so at the very least, I can say that I hope that some of this work is pointing to greater reflection about the sources, emotional and non-emotional, maybe, that give rise to the sorts of moral judgments that we make on an everyday basis.
These judgments, after all, do affect real people. All right? And so I will leave it open for questions. This is Yoel Inbar, who is making a disgust face. And he was a collaborator on nearly everything that I talked about. He's now a [INAUDIBLE] former grad student here. These are the other collaborators that I couldn't have done this stuff. And thank you. Have a safe trip home.
DAVID PIZARRO: Comments or questions?
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In recent years, a great deal of psychological research has highlighted the powerful role emotions play in shaping our attitudes and judgments. One emotion in particular--disgust--seems to have a particularly strong influence on our judgments in the social, moral, and even political domains. While the original function of disgust was most likely to protect us from disease-carrying contaminants, we can now feel disgust for immoral actions, for people, or for entire social groups.
In our research at Cornell, we have found evidence that individuals who are more easily disgusted in everyday life tend to have different moral and political views than those who are less easily disgusted, and that subtle manipulations of disgust in the laboratory (such as a foul odor) can temporarily alter people's moral and political judgments above-and-beyond this difference in disgust sensitivity. This research, we believe, helps shed light on how basic differences in emotion can give rise to differences in what we might consider "higher" judgments about the social world that surrounds us.