Smells like po­lit­i­cal spirit

The Covington News - - OPINION - COLUM­NIST

As a life-long, oc­ca­sion­ally con­scripted po­lit­i­cal vol­un­teer, I’ve en­coun­tered my share of smells along the po­lit­i­cal way. Fried chicken in the sum­mer at church pic­nics and BBQ on Fourth of July in New­nan, Ge­or­gia, (with the ar­gu­ment about which BBQ was bet­ter — Me­lear’s or Spray­berry’s). Then there was the smell of glue from the backs of the en­velopes we were send­ing. (Yes, if there are enough freshly licked en­velopes you can smell the sticky, sweet smell of the glue).

Other smells: just-fired fire­crack­ers in a ru­ral town af­ter Fourth of July, sweat af­ter walk­ing the fifth Fourth of July pa­rade in the swel­ter­ing sun in Ge­or­gia.

Pres­i­den­tial cam­paign smells in­cluded pork on the stick (a del­i­cacy, ac­cord­ing to my hus­band, Jimmy), fried but­ter, fried Oreos, fried any­thing as you walk down the mid­way of the Iowa State Fair. The smell of the pas­ture that you step onto af­ter park­ing the car out­side a cam­paign rally in South Carolina. The smell of freshly fallen snow in Alaska when step­ping out of the air­port. And the smell of craw­fish and beer in a bar in Houma, Louisiana. None of these is easy to for­get. These are the smells I re­called when re­flect­ing on the words “pol­i­tics and smell” to­gether. Wow, was I wrong. An ar­ti­cle pub­lished this week in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Po­lit­i­cal Science ti­tled, “As­sor­ta­tive Mat­ing on Ide­ol­ogy Could Op­er­ate Through Ol­fac­tory,” by Rose McDer­mott, Dustin Tin­g­ley and Peter Hatemi, pro­vides a very dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive.

Smells pro­vide not only con­text for po­lit­i­cal venues, but in­di­ca­tions, en­tice­ments to en­gage (or is that to be en­gaged?) to those who share the same po­lit­i­cal lean­ings.

“Sim­i­lar­ity be­tween spouses is com­mon ... but in hu­mans, long-term mates cor­re­late more highly on so­cial and po­lit­i­cal at­ti­tudes than al­most any other trait, with the ex­cep­tion of re­li­gion. ... Un­like re­li­gion, as­sor­ta­tive mat­ing on at­ti­tudes does not ap­pear to re­sult from part­ners be­com­ing more sim­i­lar over time, so­cial ho­mogamy or di­rect se­lec­tion.”

What this means is that cou­ples with sim­i­lar po­lit­i­cal lean­ings end up to­gether. You might wonder why your date, then your mate, have so­cial and po­lit­i­cal views that are like yours. You weren’t se­lect­ing for those; you were look­ing in­stead to see if they made your heart flut­ter when you saw them or made your feet tin­gle when you kissed. At least, those were a few of the items I se­lected for when my hus­band and I were dat­ing.

“A grow­ing body of ev­i­dence re­veals that the mech­a­nisms that ac­count for dif­fer­ences in ide­o­log­i­cal at­ti­tudes are ge­net­i­cally and bi­o­log­i­cally in­flu­enced and con­script ol­fac­tory pro­cesses,” the au­thors con­clude. “In this re­search note, we in­te­grate these lines of in­quiry and re­veal that peo­ple find the smell of ide­o­log­i­cally sim­i­lar oth­ers more at­trac­tive, thereby pro­vid­ing pre­lim­i­nary ev­i­dence sug­gest­ing that one of the mech­a­nisms by which po­lit­i­cal as­sor­ta­tive mat­ing oc­curs is through sub­con­scious sex­ual at­trac­tion to vari­ant body odors.”

So it’s not sim­ply that you as­so­ci­ate and hang out with those who have sim­i­lar be­liefs; it’s that peo­ple find the smell of those who share sim­i­lar po­lit­i­cal views more pleas­ant than the smells of those who have dif­fer­ent views. The ex­per­i­ment was con­ducted with­out the test subjects see­ing the other per­son, so the pref­er­ence was not based on phys­i­cal at­tributes.

Ge­netic pre­dis­po­si­tions (i.e., spe­cific ge­nomic re­gions) were iden­ti­fied by a study con­ducted by Hatemi in 2001 “that ac­counts for vari­a­tion in ide­o­log­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion, one of which con­tained a large num­ber of ol­fac­tory re­cep­tors.” The au­thors noted re­search in 2013 that con­cluded that: “peo­ple may be sub­con­sciously choos­ing an op­ti­mal mat­ing part­ner who would in­crease the prob­a­bil­ity of hav­ing chil­dren with more so­cial and ge­netic ad­van­tages.”

The au­thors con­cluded, “in­di­vid­u­als find the smell of those who are more ide­o­log­i­cally sim­i­lar to them­selves more at­trac­tive than those en­dors­ing op­pos­ing ide­olo­gies; re­call that par­tic­i­pants never saw the in­di­vid­u­als whose smells they were eval­u­at­ing, and the or­der of tar­get subjects was ran­dom­ized for each eval­u­a­tor.”

Peo­ple pre­fer the smell of those with sim­i­lar po­lit­i­cal views — so in­deed — those who dis­agree with your po­lit­i­cal views might be turn­ing their noses up at you, al­beit un­con­sciously. As smelly as pol­i­tics oc­ca­sion­ally gets, it’s even more fas­ci­nat­ing that the science of smell and po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy might help de­ter­mine who we end up with.

To find out more about Jackie Gin­grich Cush­man, and read fea­tures by other Cre­ators Syn­di­cate writ­ers and car­toon­ists, visit www. cre­



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