The behavioral immune system shapes partisan preferences in modern democracies: Disgust sensitivity predicts voting for socially conservative parties

Lene Aarøe*, Michael Bang Petersen, Kevin Arceneaux

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

1039 Downloads (Pure)


Abstract: While there is growing interest in the relationship between pathogen avoidance motivations and partisanship, the extant findings remain contradictory and suffer from a number of methodological limitations related to measurement and internal and external validity. We address these limitations and marshal the most complete test to date of the relationship between the behavioral immune system and partisanship, as indexed by which party people identify with and vote for. Using a unique research design, including multiple well-powered, nationally representative samples from the United States and Denmark collected in election and non-election contexts, our study is the first to establish in cross-national data a consistent, substantial, and replicable connection between deep-seated pathogen avoidance motivations and socially conservative party preferences across multiple validated measures of individual differences in disgust sensitivity, and using large representative samples. We explore the relative contribution of the pathogen avoidance model and sexual strategies for accounting for this relationship.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPolitical Psychology
Pages (from-to)1073-1091
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • behavioral immune system
  • disgust sensitivity
  • partisanship
  • pathogen avoidance
  • vote choice

Cite this