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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.