The smell of politics

If you ever thought politics stinks, you'll love this article on how Carl Paladino mailed out thousands of campaign ads custom scented with the smell of rotting garbage. Paladino realizes that voters who are disgusted are more likely to judge people harsher. As a result voters are likely to be more judgmental of New York's “career politicians” and more receptive to his message of cutting taxes and eliminating corruption. 

JUST days before New York’s Republican gubernatorial primary, Carl Paladino mailed out thousands of campaign ads impregnated with the smell of rotting garbage. Emblazoned with the message “Something Stinks in Albany” and photos of scandal-tainted New York Democrats like former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Representative Charles Rangel, the brochure attacked Mr. Paladino’s rival, former Representative Rick Lazio, for being “liberal” and a part of the state’s corrupt political system.

The emotion of disgust, many researchers believe, evolved to protect us from contamination. It is easily elicited by feces, pus, vomit, putrid meat and other substances linked to pathogens. A single picture, a few choice words and, yes, a slight odor can elicit a surprisingly intense reaction.

Disgust’s origins as a protector against contamination can be seen in its characteristic and universal facial expression: the wrinkling of the nose, curling of the upper lips and protrusion of the tongue. Wrinkling the nose has been shown to prevent pathogens from entering through the nasal cavity, and sticking out the tongue aids the expulsion of tainted food and is a common precursor to vomiting.

But disgust does more than just keep us away from poisonous substances. It also exerts a powerful and idiosyncratic influence on judgment. People who are feeling disgust become harsher in their judgments of moral offenses and offenders.

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