How the Sense of Smell Control Our Minds

It May Freak You Out (a Little)
Yes, you can inhale fear—and it changes your brain, found a German study in which "fear sweat" sniffers showed increased activation in neural circuits associated with empathy (not so for sniffers of normal sweat). After breathing it in for at least five minutes, you may feel more anxious (and not know why), as volunteers did in a study at the Monell Chemical Senses Center.
It May Geek You Out
In an experiment led by Denise Chen at Rice University, female volunteers scored higher on a word-association test after smelling sweat from the armpits of horror-movie watchers (compared to neutral or no sweat). Through learned association, inhaling "fear" or "stress" sweat may make us more alert and vigilant—which translates into a cognitive boost.
It Can Trigger Your Sexual Sixth Sense
We’ve all heard about the power of smell and its role in choosing lovers who are biologically compatible (smell sexy). The surprise: We can also use our noses to suss out whether the attraction is mutual (or, more precisely, if the man in question is horny
It Can Make You Believe Less is More
The more powerful a food’s odor, the less of it we eat in each bite. An unconscious portion-control reflex, smaller mouthfuls help to moderate big flavor hits (too much overwhelms), found researchers in a food-aroma study published by the journal Flavour.
It Can Bring Out the Perky People Person in You
Everyone knows the right smells can improve a mood. Science confirms: They can make you chatty, smiley and more sociable (flowers); more altruistic with strangers (perfume and fresh-baked bread); and likelier to give out your phone number when a man hits on you (croissant).
It Could Make You Splurge on Designer Toilet Paper (and Return for More)
A simple orange scent subconsciously inspired people in a Swiss store to spend about 20 percent more money than when shopping with no scent or a complex one (harder to process), found a study published in the Journal of Retailing.

But How?

It's caused by a class of chemical signals, unoriginally called chemosignals, that are found in human sweat, tears and possibly other fluids. The extent to which chemosignals affect humans in day-to-day life is still under debate: It's hard to measure this kind of thing accurately, because a lot of the time the influence of chemosignals is subconscious.

That's what's so weird about it -- even though the MRI showed different parts of the women's brains working depending on which sweat they smelled, in every case the subjects claimed they couldn'ttell the difference. Yet, when made to guess which was which (fear sweat vs. happy sweat, horny sweat vs. normal sweat), they were able to pick correctly (at least, at a rate better than chance). So it appears that a lot of what you just "sense" about people is nothing more than picking up chemicals in their fluids.

And make no mistake, these psychic nose-messages do affect us: Sweat collected from men about to go skydiving was shown to activate the "fear" sections in brains of people exposed to it. Women exposed to male fear-sweat also rated neutral faces as more "fearful" than when they were sniffing sweat unassociated with terror.


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