The scent of a romantic partner can help lower stress levels, researchers have found.
The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found women feel calmer after being exposed to their male partner’s scent. Conversely, being exposed to a stranger’s scent had the opposite effect and raised levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
“Many people wear their partner’s shirt or sleep on their partner’s side of the bed when their partner is away, but may not realize why they engage in these behaviours,” said Marlise Hofer, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in the UBC department of psychology.
“Our findings suggest that a partner’s scent alone, even without their physical presence, can be a powerful tool to help reduce stress,” added Hofer.
The women underwent a stress test that involved a mock job interview and a mental math task, and also answered questions about their stress levels and provided saliva samples used to measure their cortisol levels.
The researchers asked women to act as the “smellers” because they tend to have a better sense of smell than men. They found that women who had smelled their partner’s shirt felt less stressed both before and after the stress test.
Meanwhile, women who had smelled a stranger’s scent had higher cortisol levels throughout the stress test.
The authors speculated that evolutionary factors could influence why the stranger’s scent affected cortisol levels.
Frances Chen, the study’s senior author and assistant professor in the UBC department of psychology, said the findings could have practical implications to help people cope with stressful situations when they’re away from loved ones.
“With globalisation, people are increasingly travelling for work and moving to new cities. Our research suggests that something as simple as taking an article of clothing that was worn by your loved one could help lower stress levels when you’re far from home,” said Chen.