Many studies have shown that moral disgust is “embodied”. Contemplation of taboo deeds really does leave people physically sickened. Now Ryan Ritter and Jesse Preston have extended this literature to show that religious beliefs that contradict one’s own also leave a bad taste in the mouth, literally.
Eighty-two Christian student participants were told they were taking part in two separate investigations: one a marketing survey requiring that they taste two different drinks; the other a study of handwriting and personality. The participants first tasted a lemon-based drink and rated it. Then, ostensibly to allow their palates to refresh, they completed the handwriting task, which involved them copying out either a neutral text (an intro to a dictionary); a section from Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (in which he describes the God of the Old Testament as “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction”); or a section from the Qur’an (from Surah 47: 1-2). A personality questionnaire helped embellish the cover story. Finally, the students tested the second drink and rated it. A handful of participants guessed the true purpose of the study and were excluded from the analysis.
In reality the two drinks were identical and the key measure was how the participants responded to the drink after exposure to religious beliefs that contradicted their own. The findings were clear: the Christian participants reported finding the drink far more disgusting after they’d written out a passage from either Richard Dawkins or from the Qur’an. In contrast, their ratings of the drink were unchanged after writing out the neutral passage.
Our brains are weird.