A Glut of Disgust in the 2020 Race

Joe Biden on stage in Cleveland with Donald Trump who shows lots of disgust on his face during the 1st presidential debate of 2020

Oscar Wilde’s most famous play is The Importance of Being Earnest. But I’m here today to talk about the importance of disgust. Like contempt, disgust is an aversive, rejection emotion. But the two emotions are cousins, not twins. Contempt is an intellectual or attitudinal emotion—signaling distrust and disrespect. In contrast, disgust is the single most visceral emotion—signaling that something is poisonous: literally, physically, something stinks or tastes bad, and/or is morally repugnant.

In Tuesday night’s first—and I pray only—2020 presidential debate, Donald Trump oozed disgust—showing that emotion 10 times more often than Joe Biden. So what, you might say. Well, research shows that conservative people have greater disgust sensitivity. In other words, given their tried-and-true, less experimental nature, conservatives are far more likely to reject what’s new and unfamiliar. That conservative, disgust-sensitivity bias would seem to suggest that Trump was on-track by showing a glut of disgust on Tuesday. When, though, is lots of disgust too much of a bad thing?

Here are Tuesday’s emotional results:

A chart showing the percentage of facially coded emotion Joe Biden and Donald Trump showed during the 1st Presidential debate of 2020. Disgust is dominant and threatening

In short, Trump went emotionally overboard and likely repelled undecided voters, who tend to be less interested in and, hence, more emotionally low-key about politics. Take the President’s constant interruptions of Biden and even the moderator, Chris Wallace, then add that lack of decorum to Trump’s massive showing of disgust and now you’ve got someone whose bully-dominance is telling voters intuitively, emotionally—beyond words alone—that he’s prepared to blow everything up to get re-elected. Right-wing militia types like the Proud Boys might be delighted. Largely apolitical voters as well as female suburban voters are, however, likely to be left both appalled and profoundly uneasy, tilting them in Biden’s favor.

…he’s prepared to blow everything up to get re-elected.

Does It Smell Right?

The sense of smell is the oldest, most powerful sense we have. Its even the origins of the brain, meaning it should be I smell, therefore I think – not I think, therefore I am.

Why Has Hatred Become So Prevalent Today?

Released today: episode #21 of “Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight” podcast series, featuring Berit Brogaard, the author of Hatred: Understanding Our Most Dangerous Emotion(Oxford University Press 2020). Listen to the audioclip below and click on the image to get to the new episode.

Photo of Author Berit Brogaard and the cover of her book "Hatred" featured on Dan Hill's EQ Spotlight podcast episode 21
What is it that makes hatred so addicting?

What is it that makes hatred so addicting?

Berit is a Professor of Philosophy and a Cooper Fellow at the University of Miami. Her areas of research include the topics of perception, emotions, and language. She’s published five books, four with Oxford University Press over the past decade, plus The Superhuman Mind, published by Penguin in 2015.

Topics covered in this episode include:

  • The two-fold nature of hatred, which has both a personal dimension and a group dimension to it. Hatred runs hotter and longer than anger, having more intensity and an attitudinal element.
  • How a 6th trait, honesty-humility, is a contender to supplement to the usual Big 5 personality model because it brings into the equation the role of narcissism, and its likely relationship to contempt.
  • How it is that some relatively privileged white men could be so prone to hatred toward women and minorities, with that hatred growing in times of greater economic inequality.

Dan Hill, PhD, is the president of Sensory Logic, Inc.

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