Much like dogs and other animals, new research from Northwestern University suggests that humans also pick up infinitesimal scents that affect whether or not we like somebody.
The new study, published in Psychological Science, found that minute amounts of odors elicited definite psychological and physiological changes; suggesting that humans get much more information from barely perceptible scents than previously thought.
The experiment involved asking subjects to sniff bottles with three different scents: lemon (good), sweat (bad) and ethereal (neutral). The scents ranged from levels that could be consciously smelled to those that were barely perceptible. After sniffing from each of the bottles, they were shown a face with a neutral expression and asked to evaluate it using one of six different rankings, ranging from extremely likeable to extremely unlikeable.
"We evaluate people every day and make judgments about who we like or don't like," said Wen Li, lead author of the study. "We may think our judgments are based only on various conscious bits of information, but our senses also may provide subliminal perceptual information that affects our behavior."
Interestingly, people who were slightly better than average at figuring out whether the minimal smell was present didn't seem to be affected by the subliminal scents. "The study suggests that people conscious of the barely noticeable scents were able to discount that sensory information and just evaluate the faces," Li said. "It only was when smell sneaked in without being noticed that judgments about likeability were biased."
The study contends that the acute sensitivity of human olfaction is underappreciated. "In general, people tend to be dismissive of human olfaction and discount the role that smell plays in our everyday life," said co-researcher Jay Gottfried. "Our study offers direct evidence that human social behavior is under the influence of miniscule amounts of odor, at concentrations too low to be consciously perceived."
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Source: Northwestern University