Human beings, like other species, can perceive certain scents as threatening. A new study has suggested that the chemical produced by decaying tissue of dead bodies can produce a fight-or-flight response in humans. This is the first study to show that a scent emanating from a specific chemical compound called putrescine can be processed as a threat signal.
Dr. Arnaud Wisman from University of Kent's school of psychology said, "So far, nearly all the evidence for threat chemosignals has come from those that are transmitted by body sweat."
In four different experiments, the research team exposed people consciously and non-consciously to putrescine. The results reveal that putrescine can serve as a (non-conscious) signal that initiates threat management responses. The scientists found that even brief exposure to putrescine increases vigilance, followed by the readiness to either escape (flight), or engage in aggressive readiness (fight) when escape is not possible.
The authors said, "One of the outcomes of isolating putrescine in threat management processes is that it may help in determining which sensory and brain pathways are involved in chemosensory threat detection and processing."
The study was published in Frontiers in Psychology.