Abstract: The scent of another person can activate memories, trigger emotions, and spark romantic attraction; however, less is known about whether and how human scents influence responses to stress. In the current study, ninety-six participants were randomly assigned to smell one of three scents (their romantic partner’s, a stranger’s, or a clean scent) and were exposed to an acute stressor (Trier Social Stress Test). Stress reactivity was monitored throughout the procedure.
Perceived stress was lowest for participants who were exposed to their partner’s shirt. Cortisol levels were highest for participants who were exposed to a stranger’s shirt. Mediation analyses indicated that exposure to stranger versus partner scents affected participants’ initial perceived stress, which then affected cortisol responses throughout the stressful situation. The current work speaks to the critical role of human olfactory cues in social communication by revealing that the scent of other people impacts both psychological and physiological reactions to stress.
The full paper can be downloaded here