Men, Women can (literally) smell your fear

Here’s an interesting bit of research I stumbled upon today: women can detect fear in men through smelling their sweat. They also detected disgust in the same way.

The study worked like this: take sweat from a man while he was in a fearful state and a disgusted state from watching either scary or disgusting videos. (I’ll assume there was no Ludivico treatment involved in this process.) All these men ate the same neutral foods and were given the same scent-free personal products. Then, women were asked do to a visual search task while smelling the sweat (they had no idea what they were smelling). Here’s what happened:

  • Women smelling “fear sweat” showed fear responses
    • they made fearful faces
    • fear-centers in their brain activated (medial frontalis)
    • they exhibited sensory acquisition
      • they sniffed more
      • their eyes scanned more of the visual tasks
  • Women smelling “disgusted sweat” showed disgusted responses
    • they made disgusted faces
    • disgust-centers in their brain activated (levator labii)
    • they exhibited sensory rejection
      • they sniffed less
      • their eyes scanned less of the visual tasks

These are chemical signals, and research like this suggests they are very real and very subconscious. It’s unclear whether this is heightened in male-female interactions, or if it simply suggests that we are wired to calibrate to the emotional states of the people around us.

Either way, it’s worth noting: you can try to hide your fear (or disgust) around a woman, but it might not be as simply as it seems.

 Men, Women can (literally) smell your fear

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