Entries in smell (4)


See No Evil, Smell No Evil (possible alternative partners)

Individuals in committed romantic relationships tend to downplay the attractiveness of potential partners. This derogation of alternatives, as researchers refer to it, helps the relationship’s long-term future by decreasing the likelihood that partners will be tempted by others.1 To determine whether somebody derogates alternatives, researchers typically straight-up ask them (e.g., “I regularly find myself looking at attractive others”) or, more sneakily, record how long (heterosexual) individuals look at pictures of opposite-sex people when presented with a range of photos. What both of these measures have in common is they basically rely on what people look at. But what about the other senses? Do we derogate in other ways? Follow the nose….

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The Nose Knows: Detecting Sickness by Scent

image source: myteespot.com/images/Images_d/DSCF8661.jpgResearchers injected 8 volunteers with lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a molecule found on bacteria that induces a strong “internal” immune response similar to the one that occurs when people are sick (e.g., increases in body temperature and immune cells). The volunteers wore t-shirts to collect their body odor (and also provided t-shirts worn after saline administration, which served as a control condition). A separate group of participants later rated the t-shirts for pleasantness and healthiness. The participants rated the LPS condition t-shirts as more unpleasant and less healthy relative to the ‘normal’ t-shirts. In other words, when we’re sick, we release a funk that tells others to stay away. Follow your nose—it always knows.

Olsson, M. J., Lundström, J. N., Kimball, B. A., Gordon, A. R., et al. (in press). The scent of disease: Human body odor contains an early chemosensory cue of sickness. Psychological Science.


The Sense(s) of Attraction

According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, Americans spend upwards of $10 billion on for Valentine’s Day. And in true Valentine’s Day fashion, most of the adults surveyed were expecting to purchase candy, flowers, and/or a nice evening out for their partners. If you are one of those who celebrate Valentine’s Day, you might be thinking that these behaviors sound pretty familiar. The smell of roses and cologne will fill the air. Succulent wine and chocolate will dance on our tongues. We will go out dressed in our very best. Valentine’s Day truly is a day to indulge in some relational hedonism. But is the Valentine’s Day feel-goodery helpful for our relationships, or have we merely bought into a big consumer ploy? Although the answer to this question might be a matter of opinion, some research suggests that sensual pleasures – many of those that are heightened on Valentine’s Day – actually have a lot to do with feelings of attraction and relational health.

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Judging a Book by its Smell

After having three dates with a gentleman recently, I decided to stop seeing him. At the risk of sounding shallow, I just didn’t like the way he tasted or smelled. Let me explain. Our first date was a quick cup of coffee one Saturday afternoon. The conversation was interesting. We had a number of things in common, he was attractive and funny, and there was enough of a spark to make me want to kiss him after the date. Sadly, the kiss left something to be desired. His mouth had a metallic taste to it, which I thought might have been due to the bitter coffee he had been nursing during our conversation. He wasn’t wearing braces or anything, so rather than assume that it was something about him (something us psychologists call an internal attribution), I agreed to another date when he asked me out again.

Our second date entailed dinner and a few glasses of wine. He walked me to my car afterwards and kissed me. Same metallic flavor. Yuck. I moved in to give him a hug and smelled his neck.

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