Sympathy Has A Lot To Do With Your Sense Of Smell

by Tanya Thomas on Oct 16 2009 9:19 AM

Recent research has reason to believe that people who have a very sharp sense of smell also have the ability to empathise with others' emotion.

Many animals detect subtle chemical changes in a mate or competitor via their scent.

However, among humans scent is more luxurious and has even percolated into literature.

It was the works of authors such as Charles Baudelaire, Marcel Proust, and Albert Camus, who have linked rich scent references to emotions, that inspired Denise Chen, a sociochemist at Rice University in Texas to conduct the study.

"They share close functional and anatomical connections. The olfactory brain overlaps with the emotional brain, and is believed to have contributed to its evolution," National Geographic News quoted her as saying.

Women have a more uniform sense of smell than men, and are also thought to be more sensitive to emotional cues.

Thus, the researchers presented 22 pairs of young women living in university dormitories with identical t-shirts to sleep in.

After being worn for one night, the t-shirts were presented to the same women to smell.

Overall, each woman was given three t-shirts and informed that one of the shirts had been worn by her roommate, and that the other two had been worn by other university students.

Later, the subjects were asked to identify the shirt that had been worn by their roommate.

The women then underwent a series of recognized emotional-sensitivity tests, and it was found that the subjects who correctly selected the t-shirt worn by their roommates tended to score high on the emotional tests.

The researchers concluded that sense of smell and emotion come from the same areas of the brain.

The results were published in an upcoming edition of the journal Psychological Science.