A Capitol Experience with DC Alumni

Research On The Road headed back to Washington, DC, recently  for our fourth event with the good folks from the Penn State Alumni Chapter of Greater DC.  The speaker? The multifaceted political science faculty member Pete Hatemi, whose research on politics and genetics has been showcased on NPR, the BBC, and other outlets.


For a talk examining whether people are born conservatives and liberals, the venue couldn’t have been better: the popular Capitol Hill eatery “Hawk & Dove,” featured on “The West Wing” television show and other political dramas.

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A lively crowd of Penn Staters from the metro DC area turned out after work to meet Hatemi and learn more about his research in a relaxed and informal setting.

Many of the attendees had come to other Research On The Road events and were glad to welcome us back! We’re starting to have “regulars” as well as many new faces each time.

Hatemi’s talk described, among many things, a study he conducted with colleagues at Harvard and Brown to determine, in blunt terms, whether political ideology has a smell. The researchers asked self-described liberal and conservative test subjects to wear cotton sweat pads under their armpits for 24 hours. Placed in vials and frozen for a week, the sweat pads were then defrosted and given to other participants to sniff and rate.

Explains Hatemi, “As participants go up the scale in the conservative nature of their orientation, they found the odor of fellow conservatives more attractive and the smell of liberals less attractive. Similarly, more liberal evaluators were more likely to find the smell of other liberals more pleasing.”

The paper that emerged from this research, Assortative Mating on Ideology Operates Through Olfactory Cues, (published in the American Journal of Political Science) adds to the growing body of work which challenges the assumption that the transmission of political preferences is purely cultural.

The Penn Staters had plenty of astute questions for Hatemi and the discussion continued on after the formal end of the event, with the speaker staying to mingle with the crowd while everyone enjoyed an array of appetizers.

In short, a very successful evening of bipartisan debate on “the Hill” was had by all!

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