More than 90% of Americans wear some form of deodorant, helping to fund an $18 billion industry. According to new research published in Psychological Science, though, all those scent-stifling products might be covering up chemical signals so strong they can affect bystanders’ emotions. Previous research suggests that so-called chemosignals in sweat might make negative emotions contagious. Now, a small study suggests that the same contagion phenomenon may occur with pleasant emotions.
Is Happiness Contagious Via Sweat?
Researchers recruited 12 men who were free of mental health issues, did not smoke, and did not take any medications. During the study, the men abstained from alcohol, aromatic foods, exercise, and sex.
The men watched video clips designed to produce happiness, fear, or a neutral emotion. The videos were successful at inducing the intended emotional state. Men who viewed the happy video, for example, reported higher levels of happiness.
Before watching the videos, the men cleaned and dried their armpits, then wore absorbent pads during each task. Researchers stored the pads in vials after the men completed the tasks.
Researchers then recruited 36 healthy women who had no respiratory problems. Using a double-blind protocol—where neither the researcher nor the participant knew which sample the woman received—the women smelled a sweat sample associated with each of the three emotions the men had experienced.
Researchers found that women exposed to sweat associated with fear had more activity in the medial frontalis face muscle. This muscle is often used to make fearful expressions. Women exposed to “happy sweat” showed more facial activity associated with a happy Duchenne smile. Researchers also administered a perceptual-processing task, and found that women who smelled “happy sweat” exhibited a processing style the researchers believed to be associated with happiness. These results suggest that the emotions a sweating person experiences may be transferred to someone who smells the sweat.
Could Deodorant Affect Happiness?
The study was small, so more research is necessary to determine whether the correlations the researchers found stand up to a larger sample. Nevertheless, the study’s authors argue that their work may have commercial applications, and that the fragrance industry could one day use this research to affect the emotions of consumers.
- Happiness can be spread through the smell of sweat, study finds. (2015, April 18). Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/292542.php
- McCoy, T. (2014, August 13). Antiperspirants may actually make you smell worse. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/08/13/antiperspirants-may-actually-make-you-smell-worse
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