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This article discusses the profound importance of the sense of smell in human relationships and social interactions. Chrissi Kelly, who lost her sense of smell after a viral infection, founded AbScent, a charity to aid those with smell loss. She emphasizes how smell is integral to feeling connected to the world and to loved ones.

Recent research corroborates the social significance of smell. For example, a 2023 European study revealed that humans can detect the scent of others’ fear or anxiety, which in turn influences our own emotions. Additionally, a Chinese study found that those with better olfaction tend to have more friends. This is because our sense of smell helps us recognize kin, identify genetic relatives, and choose friends with similar body odors and genes.

Studies also show that mothers can identify their babies by smell shortly after birth, and vice versa. People can even distinguish between the body odors of identical twins. Furthermore, research from the Weizmann Institute of Science indicates that people with similar body odors are more likely to enjoy each other’s company.

The sense of smell also allows us to pick up on others’ emotions. For instance, people can sense happiness through body odor, as demonstrated in a Dutch study where sniffing pads that absorbed sweat from happy individuals improved the mood of others. Conversely, a 2020 study by Bettina Pause revealed that women’s brains react strongly to the sweat of men who experienced aggression, making women more risk-averse and less trusting.

Women, in particular, seem attuned to smells indicating male anxiety, which may be an evolutionary adaptation for caregiving roles. A heightened sense of smell is linked to better empathy and larger social networks. People with a keener sense of smell report less loneliness and have more friends.

However, the mechanisms of how body odors influence behavior remain largely unknown. Researchers like Johan Lundström and Monique Smeets are investigating which specific odor molecules affect social connections. The pandemic has brought renewed attention to the importance of smell, with studies showing a significant percentage of people experiencing olfactory dysfunction after COVID-19 infections.

Overall, the article highlights that olfaction is an essential, yet often underestimated, aspect of human social interaction and communication.