A Calming Scent

In a previous News Blog we looked at a study investigating associations between body odour and attractiveness to strangers.[1] But what about the smell of someone we already love? A recent study randomly assigned 96 women to smell the scent of either their partner, a stranger, or a neutral unworn shirt, before exposing them to stress through a standardised mock job interview and an unanticipated mental arithmetic task.[2] The results found that women exposed to their partner’s scent perceived lower levels of stress both before and after the stressor task (though not during). Further women exposed to a stranger’s scent had higher levels of cortisol throughout the study, which is released in response to stress.

Perhaps providing worn clothing from a loved one could be a useful coping strategy for people who have been separated, for example, in elderly patients in care homes.

— Peter Chilton, Research Fellow


  1. Lilford RJ. The Scent of a Woman – Not as Important as Once Thought. NIHR CLAHRC West Midlands News Blog. 24 November 2017.
  2. Hofer MK, Collins HK, Whillans AV, Chen FS. Olfactory Cues From Romantic Partners and Strangers Influence Women’s Responses to Stress. J Person Soc Psychol. 2018; 114(1): 1-9.

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