Do people transmit happiness by smell?

May 26, 2015 by Alan Mozes, Healthday Reporter
Do people transmit happiness by smell?
Lab experiment with 'scent samples' suggests humans pick up on others' positive emotions via sweat.

As emotions go, happiness usually hides in plain sight: seen in a broad smile, heard in a raucous laugh, felt in a big hug.

But new research suggests there may be a less obvious way to pick up on another person's positive vibes: smell.

According to a team of European researchers, happiness may generate chemicals that get secreted in sweat, and that sweat signal gets sniffed by those around us.

The experiments also suggest that we not only breathe in the upbeat emotions of others, but by doing so we actually become happier ourselves.

"Human sweat produced when a person is happy induces a state similar to happiness in somebody who inhales this odor," said study co-author Gun Semin, a research professor in the department of psychology at Koc University in Istanbul, Turkey, and the Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada in Lisbon, Portugal.

The findings were published recently in Psychological Science.

The researchers noted that prior research has already demonstrated that , such as fear or disgust, can be communicated via odors in sweat.

To see whether the same holds true for the happier feelings, Semin's team gathered sweat samples from 12 young men after each watched videos designed to induce a variety of emotions, including happiness and fear. All the men were healthy, drug-free nonsmokers, and none drank, consumed smelly foods or engaged in sexual activity during the study period.

In turn, 36 equally healthy young women were engaged to smell the samples while their reactions were monitored. The smell group, explained investigators, was confined to women because women typically have a better sense of smell than men and are also more sensitive to emotional signaling.

After analyzing the facial expressions of the smell group, the research team concluded that there does, in fact, appear to be a so-called "behavioral synchronization" between a sweating person's emotional state, the sweat generated, and the reaction of the person who sniffs that sweat.

Specifically, that meant that the faces of women who smelled "happy sweat" displayed facial muscle activity deemed to be representative of .

Sweat didn't always produce a contagious response in the smeller, however. For example, those smellers who verbalized having a "pleasant" or "intense" reaction to a sweat sample did not manifest those reactions in their .

What is it exactly that makes "happy sweat" infectious?

Semin, who is also professor of social and behavioral sciences at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, acknowledged that "we have not demonstrated what the nature of the chemical compound is in sweat."

Pamela Dalton is an olfactory (smell sense) scientist with the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. She said she found the findings "a little surprising."

However, "what is interesting about this study is that it suggests a positive emotion can be communicated—which in my opinion is far less important in human evolution and behavior than to be able to transmit and recognize a negative emotion, such as fear or anger," Dalton said.

For that reason, Dalton said she "would expect the ability to communicate a happy emotion to [actually] be less potent than the ability to transmit a negative emotion."

But Andreas Keller, a research associate with The Rockefeller University in New York City, said the study findings make intuitive sense.

"Hearing happy people and seeing happy people makes you happier," he said, "so the fact that smelling them would make you happier, too, is probably not so surprising."

According to Keller, the next step "would be to find out what the chemical difference in fear sweat and happy is that mediates these effects. This would open the door to study what is going on at a mechanistic level."

Explore further: A sniff of happiness: Chemicals in sweat may convey positive emotion

More information: There's more on the human sense of smell at the Social Issues Research Center.

Related Stories

A sniff of happiness: Chemicals in sweat may convey positive emotion

April 16, 2015
Humans may be able to communicate positive emotions like happiness through the smell of our sweat, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The ...

The knowing nose: Chemosignals communicate human emotions

November 5, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Many animal species transmit information via chemical signals, but the extent to which these chemosignals play a role in human communication is unclear. In a new study published in Psychological Science, ...

Recommended for you

Trying to get people to agree? Skip the French restaurant and go out for Chinese food

December 11, 2018
Here's a new negotiating tactic: enjoy a family-style meal with your counterpart before making your opening bid.

What social stress in monkeys can tell us about human health

December 11, 2018
Research in recent years has linked a person's physical or social environment to their well-being. Stress wears down the body and compromises the immune system, leaving a person more vulnerable to illnesses and other conditions. ...

The richer the reward, the faster you'll likely move to reach it, study shows

December 11, 2018
If you are wondering how long you personally are willing to stand in line to buy that hot new holiday gift, scientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine say the answer may be found in the biological rules governing how animals typically ...

Receiving genetic information can change risk

December 11, 2018
Millions of people in the United States alone have submitted their DNA for analysis and received information that not only predicts their risk for disease but, it turns out, in some cases might also have influenced that risk, ...

Using neurofeedback to prevent PTSD in soldiers

December 11, 2018
A team of researchers from Israel, the U.S. and the U.K. has found that using neurofeedback could prevent soldiers from experiencing PTSD after engaging in emotionally difficult situations. In their paper published in the ...

You make decisions quicker and based on less information than you think

December 11, 2018
We live in an age of information. In theory, we can learn everything about anyone or anything at the touch of a button. All this information should allow us to make super-informed, data-driven decisions all the time.

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

JVK
1 / 5 (1) May 26, 2015
Nutrient-dependent/pheromone-controlled adaptive evolution: a model
http://www.ncbi.n...3960065/

Vietvet
not rated yet May 27, 2015
Nutrient-dependent/pheromone-controlled adaptive evolution: a model
http://www.ncbi.n...3960065/

Jvk's model crushed: http://www.resear...ry_model
JVK
1 / 5 (1) May 27, 2015
http://perfumingt...thology/

Excerpt: "Anyone who cannot link biologically-based cause and effect from yeasts to insects and mammals and back is biologically uninformed.

Researchers who are biologically informed about the role that food odors and pheromones play in RNA-mediated cell type differentiation will eventually make the human pheromone market worth billions to researchers who are Combating Evolution to Fight Disease."
Vietvet
not rated yet May 27, 2015
There he goes again.

Another example of JVK referencing himself yet again.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.