Like animals, we too can smell fear: Researchers

NEW YORK: Humans can sniff fear and disgust, and the emotions are contagious, a new study has found, suggesting we communicate via smell just like other animals.

“These findings are contrary to the commonly accepted assumption that human communication runs exclusively via language or visual channels,” researchers led by Gun Semin from Utrecht University in the Netherlands said. Most animals communicate using smell, however, because humans lack the same odour-sensing organs, scientists thought we had long ago lost our ability to smell fear or other emotions, the Live Science reported.

To find out, a team of scientists collected sweat from under the armpits of 10 men while they watched either frightening scenes from the horror movie ‘The Shining’ or repulsive clips of MTV’s “Jackass” . The researchers asked 36 women to take a visual test while they unknowingly inhaled the scent of men’s sweat. When women sniffed ‘fear sweat’, they opened their eyes wide in a scared expression, while those smelling sweat from disgusted men scrunched their faces into a repulsed grimace.

The team chose men as the sweat donors and women as the receivers because past research suggests women are more sensitive to men’s scent than vice versa. The findings suggest that humans can communicate at least some emotions by smell, which could prove useful in crowded places, researchers said. “Our research suggests emotional chemo-signals can be potential contributors to emotional contagion in situations involving dense crowds,” the authors said.

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