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STUDY: Certain people are better than others at detecting a certain component of body odor
JOURNAL: American Psychological Society's
ABSTRACT: Certain people are better than others at detecting a certain component of body odor called androstenone, and those who can sniff out that ingredient are also more likely than others to like or dislike another person based on how they smell, according to new research.
COMMENTARY: The people who are sensitive to androstenone are also more likely to use odors as a way of evaluating people.
Androstenone is an often-touted human pheromone, or chemical attractant, found in certain body secretions, such as human sweat. Men release the most androstenone, but women also secrete the chemical in small amounts.
About half of people cannot smell androstenone at all. In those that do catch a whiff, around half enjoy the odor, rating it as musky or similar to sandalwood. However, for the rest, the smell can resemble the foul scent of urine or sweat.
Since androstenone is only a small component of body odor, even those whose noses are blind to the particular chemical can pick up on a person's overall scent. When people do smell androstenone, it may put a certain note on a body that wouldn't be there otherwise.
In the experiment, Pierce and his team tested the androstenone-smelling abilities of 258 undergraduate students, average age 19. The investigators asked the students to smell samples of concentrated androstenone and amyl acetate, a clear liquid with a banana-like odor. They were then asked to rate how strongly another person's odor would affect their feelings about him or her.
Fifty-five participants could not detect an odor from androstenone, although all could smell the amyl acetate. Androstenone smelling ability tended to correlate with how much participants judged a person by his or her smell, with androstenone-smellers saying they were much more likely to like or dislike people based on odor. Those who rated the androstenone as unpleasant had stronger feelings about people based on smell than those who enjoyed the odor, Pierce and his team noted.
The next step in this research is to test a person's ability to sniff out other odors, and whether that also relates to how much that person uses odor to rate others in a social context. Not surprisingly, one of the next odors they plan to look at is underarm odor.