Correlation Found Between Sense of Smell and Emotional Sensitivity

Matt Kaplan writes in National Geographic about a new study that suggests a link between a person's olfactory sensitivity and awareness of the emotions of other people. Denise Chen of Rice University in Texas led the research process:

Women have a more uniform sense of smell than men, and are also thought to be more sensitive to emotional cues.

So Chen and graduate student Wen Zhou presented 22 pairs of young women living in university dormitories with identical t-shirts to sleep in.

After being worn for one night, the t-shirts were later presented to the same women to smell.

Each woman was given three t-shirts and informed that one of the shirts had been worn by her roommate, and that the other two had been worn by other university students.

The subjects were asked to identify the shirt that had been worn by their roommate.

The women then took a series of recognized emotional-sensitivity tests.

Subjects who correctly selected the t-shirt worn by their roommates tended to score high on the emotional tests.


Link | Photo: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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You would think that emotion-sensitive women have closer relationships with their roommates because they are emotion-sensitive. So there is a bigger chance they know their smell.
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Agree with Zog about lazy science, and want to add 'misleading reporting labeled as scientific truth.'

In any case, if there is a correlation, then it's not absolute. I've always been way more sensitive than I wish to be, but my sense of smell is weak due to near-constant congestion.
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I really hope the researchers didn't really come to that as a conclusion. There are plenty of possible explanations for the correlation. I would have been more likely to believe that people noticed what their roommate smelled like in the first place did so because they socialized with them. or bothered to notice.

The whole t-shirt thing is just there to twist the results toward their goal, otherwise they would have just asked the subjects to identify some other random smell.

For olfactory sensitivity they chose accuracy of identification over sensitivity to smell, which could also just suggest that these people were more observant rather than more sensitive to smell.
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I smell a rat.

"Subjects who correctly selected the t-shirt worn by their roommates tended to score high on the emotional tests."

Tended? What does that mean? The number of subjects in the study (22 pairs) is given but no numbers that allows the reader to interpret the results for themselves. No link to that data either. How far did the results deviate from chance? They have a written test for empathy?

I find it much easier to doubt this study believe it's claims. I hate lazy science reporting. Focus on the weird stuff no matter how bad the methodology.
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