Can scents affect who you like?

If you’re not aware of them, yes:

It is widely accepted that unconscious processes can modulate judgments and behavior, but do such influences affect one’s daily interactions with other people? Given that olfactory information has relatively direct access to cortical and subcortical emotional circuits, we tested whether the affective content of subliminal odors alters social preferences. Participants rated the likeability of neutral faces after smelling pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant odors delivered below detection thresholds. Odor affect significantly shifted likeability ratings only for those participants lacking conscious awareness of the smells, as verified by chance-level trial-by-trial performance on an odor-detection task. Across participants, the magnitude of this priming effect decreased as sensitivity for odor detection increased. In contrast, heart rate responses tracked odor valence independently of odor awareness. These results indicate that social preferences are subject to influences from odors that escape awareness, whereas the availability of conscious odor information may disrupt such effects.

Source: “Subliminal Smells Can Guide Social Preferences” from Psychological Science, Volume 18 Issue 12, Pages 1044 – 1049

Our noses are lot more powerful than we give them credit for. A man’s nose can tell when a woman is ovulating:

Adaptationist models of human mating provide a useful framework for identifying subtle, biologically based mechanisms influencing cross-gender social interaction. In line with this framework, the current studies examined the extent to which olfactory cues to female ovulation—scents of women at the peak of their reproductive fertility—influence endocrinological responses in men. Men in the current studies smelled T-shirts worn by women near ovulation or far from ovulation (Studies 1 and 2) or control T-shirts not worn by anyone (Study 2). Men exposed to the scent of an ovulating woman subsequently displayed higher levels of testosterone than did men exposed to the scent of a nonovulating woman or a control scent. Hence, olfactory cues signaling women’s levels of reproductive fertility were associated with specific endocrinological responses in men—responses that have been linked to sexual behavior and the initiation of romantic courtship.

Source: “Scent of a Woman: Men’s Testosterone Responses to Olfactory Ovulation Cues” from Psychological Science, Vol 21. No 2, 276-283

Being in love affects a woman’s sense of smell:

Romantic love is one of our most potent and powerful emotions, but very little is known with respect to the hormonal and psychological mechanisms in play. Romantic love is thought to help intimate partners stay committed to each other and two mechanisms have been proposed to mediate this commitment: increased attention towards one’s partner or deflected attention away from other potential partners. Both mechanisms find support in the literature. We explored the potential influence of each of these mechanisms by assessing women’s ability to identify (ID) body odors originating from their boyfriend, a same-sex friend, and an opposite-sex friend and the relationship between this ability and the degree of romantic love expressed towards their boyfriend. We hypothesized that an increase in attention towards one’s partner would render a positive correlation between ID of a boyfriend’s body odor and degree of romantic love; conversely, we hypothesized that attention deflected away from other potential partners would render a negative correlation between ID of an opposite-sex friend’s body odor and degree of romantic love for the boyfriend. Our results supported the deflection theory as we found a negative correlation between the degree of romantic love for the subjects’ boyfriends and their ability to ID the body odor of an opposite-sex friend but not of their boyfriend or same-sex friend. Our results indicate that romantic love deflects attention away from potential new partners rather than towards the present partner. These changes are likely mediated by circulating neuropeptides and a testable model is suggested.

Source: “Romantic love modulates women’s identification of men’s body odors” from Hormones and Behavior, Volume 55, Issue 2, February 2009, Pages 280-284

Clean smells can actually make you a better person:

Given the symbolic association between physical and moral purity, we considered a provocative possibility: In addition to regulating physical cleanliness, clean smells might also motivate virtuous behavior. Indeed, moral transgressions can engender literal feelings of dirtiness (Zhong & Liljenquist, 2006). Just as many symbolic associations, such as coldness and loneliness (Zhong & Leonardelli, 2008) or darkness and depravity (Frank & Gilovich, 1988), are reciprocally related (Lakoff, 1987), morality and cleanliness may also be reciprocally linked. We investigated whether clean scents could transcend the domain of physical cleanliness and promote virtuous behavior.

Source: “The Smell of Virtue: Clean Scents Promote Reciprocity and Charity” from Psychological Science, Vol 21 No. 3 381-383

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