Stressed Out? Try Sniffing Your Significant Other, Research Says

March 29, 2018

The scent of another person can activate memories, trigger emotions, and spark romantic attraction; however, almost nothing is known about whether and how human scents influence responses to stress — until now.

smell partners clothes to reduce stress
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Researchers at University of British Columbia have revealed that the scent of a romantic partner can help lower stress levels, while the scent of a stranger has the opposite effect and can raise stress levels.

In the study, 96 women were randomly assigned to smell one of three scents (their romantic partner's, a stranger's, or a neutral scent) and exposed to a Trier Social Stress Test.

Women who smelled their partner's shirt felt less stressed before and after the stress test. But those who smelled a stranger's shirt had higher cortisol levels.

"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."

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 globalization, people are increasingly traveling for work and moving to new cities," said Chen. "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."

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