Emotional Body Odors as Context Effects on Cardiac and Subjective Responses


Many studies have indicated that the chemical cues from body odors (BOs) of donors experiencing negative emotions can influence the psychophysiological and behavioral response of the observers. However, these olfactory cues have been used mainly as contextual information for processing visual stimuli. Here, for the first time, we evaluate how emotional BO affects the emotional tone of a subsequent BO message. Axillary sweat samples were taken from 20 donors in 3 separate sessions while they watched fear, disgust, or neutral videos. In a double-blind experiment, we assessed the cardiac and subjective responses from 69 participants who were either exposed to negative emotional or neutral BOs. Our results showed a reduced cardiac parasympathetic activity (HF%) - indicating increased stress - when participants smelled the emotional BOs before the neutral BOs, compared to when they smelled neutral followed by emotional BOs. The intensity of the neutral odor also increased following the exposure to both negative BOs. These findings indicate that BOs contain an emotion-dependent chemical cue that affects the perceiver both at the physiological and subjective levels.

Chemical Senses, (43), 5, pp. 347–355
Valentina Parma
Valentina Parma
Research Assistant Professor in Psychology