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An Unexpected Object Helps You Pick Your Friends—Your Nose

By: Sarah Wang

Many people tend to “click” with their good friends, an automatic bond since they first met. However, this bond may not be because of similarities in hobbies, environment, or age. It may be because of body odor.

Scientists who study the human olfactory system have found that good friends tend to have similar body odor. A study published last Wednesday had researchers pair together close friends and compared their scents. Surprisingly, people who were good friends tended to have a closer smelling body odor compared to the other people in the experiment.

The same study also paired strangers with each other to play a game. Some participants were paired with a person with a similar body aroma, while some were not. It turned out that their body odors accurately predicted how well the pairs of strangers would get along, with duos with similar smells getting along better with each other than those without it.

Inbal Ravreby, a researcher in Doctor Noam Sobel’s lab, wanted to see if friendships, especially ones that happen smoothly and quickly, have anything to do with the unconscious smelling of body odor. She enlisted 40 volunteers, each having a so-called “click friend” also participating in the study.

Ravreby collected the scents of recruits by having them refrain from foods that cause body odor, not use perfumes or deodorants, and bathe with unscented soaps. Then, she provided each participant a shirt to sleep in, causing their scent to collect within the shirt. Raverby and her team used an electric nose to examine the shirts. It concluded that the pairs of friends did have very similar odors, meaning that scent was one of the more influential things picked up when they first met.

“It’s very probable that at least some of them were using perfumes when they met,” Ms. Ravreby had thought. “But it did not mask whatever they had in common.”

Although these studies show unmistakable proof that friends tend to have similar aromas, this may only be due to the pair sharing a similar lifestyle after the meeting. It can be hard to tell whether or not the detection of similar smells came before the foundation of a relationship.

Another study by Dr. Sobel’s lab that tackled this problem had 132 strangers, who all have had their smells recorded, participate in a mirroring game. The researchers paired each participant with another stranger with a similar odor. Afterward, each volunteer took a survey asking whether or not they had felt a connection with their partner. About 3 out of every 4 participants in the experiment said they experienced a positive association with their partner.

Although researchers have done many studies surrounding this theory, many questions about the correlation between the olfactory system and human behaviors are still a mystery.

“If you think of the bouquet that is body odor, it’s 6,000 molecules at least,” said Dr. Sobel. “There are 6,000 that we know of already — it’s probably way more.”

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