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Way In

Yuck factor

Can certain passages from the writings of Richard Dawkins, or Muhammad, leave a bad taste in the mouth for Christians? According to the psychologists Ryan Ritter and Jesse Lee Preston, they do quite literally.

Ritter and Preston, from the University of Illinois, asked 88 Christian student volunteers to taste a lemon drink and rate (out of five) how bitter, sour, sweet, delicious and disgusting it was.

Then, supposedly to help clense the pallette, they were asked to copy out a piece of writing. For some it was an attack on the God of the Old Testament from The God Delusion. Others were given two verses of the Qu'ran saying that God does not count the good deeds of non-Muslims. A third group received part of a dictionary.

They were then given a second drink to rate, which in fact was the same as the first. The average rating for 'disgusting' rose significantly for those who had read the Qu'ran, and further still for those who had read Dawkins. The dictionary upset no one.

In a second experiment, getting the volunteers to wash their hands after writing brought the rating back down again.

If our tastes can influence what we believe, it evidently works the other way round too.

For more, see 'Gross Gods and Icky Atheism: Disgust responses to rejected religious beliefs, in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.