By Kimberly Clark, Science Tuesday Editor
Well, you’re smelling especially fearful this morning.
I’m going to run the risk and assume that no one has ever been told that. You’ve been told you smell nice, of course. A little pungent—probably at least once. That you absolutely reek and need a shower ASAP—you know who you are. But that you smell like fear? Definitely not.
For quite a while, most scientists agreed that humans communicate exclusively through language and vision. Animals can communicate via smell, but scientists always thought our noses just aren’t specialized enough to do the same. What a bummer.
Now, they’ve found that we can communicate with smell like animals… but I wouldn’t challenge your pooch to a sniff contest just yet.
According to a recent article published in Psychological Science, we have the ability to smell both fear and disgust, and we are even able to catch it from someone else.
How did researchers figure that one out?
Well, the first order of business was collecting the sweat of the fearful and disgusted. To do so, the researchers collected armpit sweat from 10 men as they were terrified by scenes from “The Shining” and were repulsed (and probably immaturely entertained) by clips from “Jackass.”
Then, 36 lucky ladies were asked to sniff the collected sweat as they took a visual test.
The very thought of putting a nose anywhere near a man’s sweaty shirt should strike fear and disgust from any self-respecting woman, but they didn’t know what they were smelling.
When the women smelled the sweat collected when the men were afraid, the women widened their eyes in a fearful expression. Likewise, when they smelled the sweat collected when the men were disgusted, the women grimaced in repulsion.
These results indicate that humans have some ability to communicate emotions by smell, and it could contribute to the mob mentality phenomenon.
But I know what you’re really wondering: why were the women stuck with the role of the sweat sniffer while the men got to watch a movie and a television show while getting their armpits dabbed?
That’s because earlier research found that women tend to be more sensitive to men’s scent than men are to women’s.
And are we surprised, ladies, that men lack such sensitivity? No, no we are not.