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Smelliness, Anxiety, and Dominance

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

Research about social-situational odors
compiled by Stephen Drew, Improbable Research staff

The Search for the Smell of Anxiety
“Induction of Empathy by the Smell of Anxiety,” Alexander Prehn-Kristensen, Christian Wiesner, Til Ole Bergmann, Stephan Wolff, Olav Jansen, Hubertus Maximilian Mehdorn, Roman Ferstl, and Bettina M. Pause, PLoS ONE, vol. 4, no. 6, 2009, e5987. The authors, at the University of Duesseldorf and several other institutions in Germany, report:

Here, we investigate how chemosensory anxiety signals conveyed by the sweat of humans (N = 49) awaiting an academic examination are processed by the human brain, as compared to chemosensory control signals obtained from the same sweat donors in a sport condition. The chemosensory stimuli were... administered to 28 participants (14 males) synchronously to breathing via an olfactometer. The stimuli were perceived with a low intensity and accordingly only about half of the odor presentations were detected by the participants. The fMRI results (event-related design) show that chemosensory anxiety signals activate brain areas involved in the processing of social emotional stimuli (fusiform gyrus), and in the regulation of empathic feelings (insula, precuneus, cingulate cortex).

Smelliness and Social Acceptance
“You Are As You Smell: The Effect of Odor and Breath Odor on Social Acceptance,” Alan R. Hirsch, Journal of Breath Research, vol. 2, no. 1, 2008, 017001. The author, at the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, reports:

This article discusses the many factors that can influence odor perception, including association, expectancy and context and a good number of perceiver response variables such as age and gender as well as personality type. A historical background is included together with a wide range of references.

Personality Clue Strength: Appearance or Odor?
“Seeing or Smelling? Assessing Personality on the Basis of Different Stimuli,” Agnieszka Sorokowska, Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 55, no. 2, 2013, pp. 175-179. The author, at the University of Wroclaw, Poland, explains:

This study examines whether people can accurately assess personality on the basis of facial images and body odor and whether attractiveness influences these relationships.... Naive observers assessed neuroticism and dominance at above-chance levels based on body odor, and they assessed extraversion (and in some cases, neuroticism) at above-chance levels based on either facial images alone or body odor and facial images presented together. The accuracy differed depending on the sex of the targets and the raters. In addition, facial and body odor attractiveness predicted the targets’ personalities and the assessments of their personalities.

Some People Can Smell Your Personality Traits, Maybe
“Does Personality Smell? Accuracy of Personality Assessments Based on Body Odour,” Agnieszka Sorokowska, Piotr Sorokowski, and Andrzej Szmajke, European Journal of Personality, vol. 26, no. 5, 2012, pp. 496-503. (Thanks to Hugh Henry for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at the University of Wroclaw and at Opole University, Poland, explain:

Odour donors were given 100% cotton white T-shirts laundered in delicately scented washing powder... and were asked to wear them for three consecutive nights on one scheduled weekend.... Sixty odour samples were assessed by 20 raters each. The main finding of the presented study is that for a few personality traits, the correlation between self-assessed personality of odour donors and judgments based on their body odour was above-chance level.... Further analyses showed that... the ratings of dominance were particularly accurate for assessments of the opposite sex.


This article is republished with permission from the March-April 2016 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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