Any pet owner can tell you that animals have an amazing sense of smell. Dogs, cats or even hamsters— watch one for a few minutes and you’re likely to see some serious sniffing in action. That’s because most animals rely on their sense of smell for gathering important information about their surroundings.
This natural ability becomes even more apparent when watching two or more animals socialize. One of the first things most dogs will do when they meet another dog is sniff them. It seems the majority like to concentrate their attention toward the most embarrassing areas within nose reach.
While this frequently makes for great icebreakers at the dog park and awkward laughs when guests drop by, there is a practical reason why they do it. Based on odor alone, dogs and other animals are able to glean insight into personality and general state of health.
As amazing as this is, some are still easy to quickly dismiss it as simply an interesting, but trivial bit of information regarding how “less intelligent” animals communicate in lieu of speech and other more abstract methods of exchanging information.
A recent Polish study suggests we humans might still depend on our noses for a lot more than we realize . In fact, according to findings, our sense of smell could play an essential role in helping us quickly identify key personality traits.
Researchers from the University of Wroclaw, in Poland, asked a group of 60 participants (30 males, 30 females) to wear the same unmarked white t-shirt while they slept, for three consecutive nights. They were instructed not to wash the shirt and to avoid anything that might contaminate the scent of the garment. This included things such as smoking, eating pungent foods like garlic, and using hygiene products such as perfumes and deodorant.
After the third evening, participants were asked to seal the shirts in unlabeled plastic bags. A second group of volunteers (200 in total, again half male and half female) were then asked to smell a number of bags and make guesses at the owner’s personality, and whether they were anxious, outgoing, or dominant, based solely on their body odor.
Each member of this second group of volunteers was asked to sniff and judge only six bags to avoid desensitization. Each bag was reviewed by a total of 20 volunteers. When the results were compared to those of a similar study, in which participants had been asked to classify individuals based of short video clips instead of body odor, they were found comparable in overall accuracy .
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- Bob Yirka. Study shows people can guess personality via body odor. Medical Press Psychology & Psychiatry. 2011 December 5.
- Agnieszka Sorokowska, Piotr Sorokowski, Andrzej Szmajke. Does personality smell? Accuracy of personality assessments based on body odour. European Journal of Personality. 2012 October. Volume 26, Issue 5, pages 496–503.
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