It is horrifyingly easy to manipulate a person's moral decisions without them knowing it -- that's why this is one of our favorite subjects. We've previously talked about how everything from caffeine to bad lighting can turn you into a jerk. There are all kinds of unpredictable exterior stimuli that are basically like cheat codes for turning perfectly good people into dickheads, and they only get weirder ...
It's no secret that alcohol amplifies obnoxiousness. It tears down the walls of inhibition, revealing that we're all secretly loud, unapologetic dicks just beneath the surface. Studies on this subject would be hilarious, but not terribly surprising. Here's what is surprising, though: Drinkers are just as awful when thinking about alcohol. More specifically, they become a lot more racist.
One study involved exposing participants to a series of magazine ads to prime them -- half of the participants saw ads for alcoholic beverages, and the other half saw ads for soda and water. Afterward, to examine their racist tendencies, researchers gave them multiple tests, showing a split-second image of a white face or a black face and then a picture of either a gun or a tool, at which point the participants were asked to identify what they had just seen. Well, it turns out that the people who had seen the alcohol ads frequently mistook the tool for a gun during quick identification. But here's where it gets weird: They only mistook it for a gun when it was a black face that preceded the picture. Those who had seen the ads for non-alcoholic beverages were not just better at identifying the difference between hammers and automatic weapons; they were also significantly less racist when they did mess up. What the hell?
"Everybody on the fucking ground! This is a robbery!"
To explain this, we have to understand how the subconscious works. Your brain is constantly registering and associating things without your input because you'd go insane if it tried to run everything by your conscious mind. Picture your subconscious as a secretary or assistant, making decisions that are so small or trivial that they aren't worth the boss's time. It's very easy to forget how extremely powerful the secretary actually is, just by virtue of all of these little decisions it makes day to day. And no matter how many "racism is wrong" messages you get in your conscious mind, lots of us still subconsciously make the connection between, say, black men and violence.
So even if you don't think you're racist, your subconscious secretary is still signing your name with a rubber stamp to some pretty racist ideas, simply because your neural pathways have decided that generalizing and stereotyping is a much faster way of doing business.
"Love your suit. Where'd you steal it?"
Of course, if you actually drink alcohol, your conscious inhibitions fall and suddenly you're screaming to a police officer about how Jews are secretly behind all of the world's wars. But since your brain is familiar with that process of inhibition, just being reminded of alcohol starts the process, if just a little tiny bit. You naturally become more relaxed, subconsciously remembering the no-holds-barred attitude you had the last time you were under the influence and screamed racial slurs through the entire game of beer pong.
As far as deceptions go, wearing knockoff luxury items is probably the most benign, because it's a completely victimless form of dishonestly. Well, aside from those poor kids in the sweatshop who have to stitch the fake handbags together when they could have been doing the exact same thing at a real Prada factory. Wearing replicas is like telling a little white lie to the world, insisting that you are a little wealthier, a little more polished, and a little more fashion-conscious. But, bizarrely, it also makes you a little less trustworthy, too. We don't mean that untrustworthy people tend to wear them -- we mean that we can stick the fake clothes on you and you'll become less honest.
To test it, researchers recruited young women and had them wear a pair of Chloe sunglasses ...
Via Celebrity Sunglasses Finder
And Kim Kardashian's skin suit.
... like those.
Half of them were told that the sunglasses were fake, while the other half were truthfully told that they were real. The women then had to fill out a complicated math test that couldn't possibly be finished in the given time.
When they were done, they had to score themselves on the honor system, and for every additional correct answer, they would be given more money. With that incentive, a whopping 70 percent of the women who thought they were wearing fake sunglasses cheated and scored themselves higher to get more cash. Of the women who knew that the glasses were real, only 30 percent cheated.
Let's not tell Chloe about that, though -- the ads will get weird.
This is another one of those experiments that prove how malleable most people are when it comes to their honesty -- give them a little nudge one way or the other, and you find out just how much wiggle room they have in their moral code. In this case, experts concluded that even when we don't notice it, just wearing fake products alone will subconsciously make us more comfortable with lying. With one duplicity already under our belt, it's easier to just say, "Oh, what's one more on the pile?"
It's easy to understand why people get short-tempered when they're unhappy. We all know firsthand that as we suffer through the discomfort of a headache, hunger, or lack of sleep, it doesn't take much provocation to turn us into raging assholes. But what about something as simple as a bad taste in your mouth? Is it possible for bitter food to turn us into bitter people?
According to scientists at the City University of New York, the answer is a resounding "Yes, and who the fuck are you to question us?"
"We're wearing safety goggles because we don't want to get your blood in our eyes."
Specifically, they found that bitter foods can make people more judgmental. In an effort to demonstrate how easy it is to turn us into righteous pricks, researchers gave participants a bitter drink, a sweet drink, or a glass of water. They then presented them with several grave scenarios that they had to judge. These included things like eating a dead dog and family members having sex with each other. What the researchers found was that the people who had to endure the bitter drink in their mouths were 27 percent more judgmental than those who drank water or a sweet drink.
So how can an unpleasant taste make us immediately jump onto our high horses? Because the taste of physical disgust is so profound to us that it can trigger our ideas of moral disgust. The two types of revulsion feel so similar that our minds attribute them to the same source. It makes sense -- if you say that something is disgusting, you can be talking about a mob that beat up a homeless man or a smelly trash can -- offending your morals and offending your five senses both trigger the same gut reaction. Zombies eat people, but also they are oozing, rotting, grunting piles of stinking meat -- they make great villains, because the disgust hits us on both levels.
It's the same exact principle with ventriloquists.
So the participants felt as though they weren't just hearing about incest, but that incest was infiltrating their taste buds as well. The takeaway here is that whenever you start feeling morally righteous, try brushing your teeth and see if it goes away before you try to shame anyone. Or you could continually ask yourself if maybe, just maybe, you aren't judging certain people more harshly purely because they gross you out.