Researchers discovered that people had a proclivity to make friendships with persons who have similar body odour.
The researchers were also able to anticipate the quality of social encounters between strangers by first sniffing them using an electronic nose, or eNose. These findings imply that the sense of smell may be more important in human social interactions than previously considered. Anyone who has ever walked a dog knows that their canine can typically determine if an approaching dog is a friend or adversary from a distance.
When in doubt, the two dogs may carefully and openly smell each other before determining whether to engage in a play session or an all-out conflict. Except for humans, the prominent function of the sense of smell in social interactions has been thoroughly established in all terrestrial animals. Is this because humans, unlike all other terrestrial animals, do not utilise their noses in social situations? Is this behaviour in humans covert rather than overt?
Inbal Ravreby, a graduate student in Prof. Noam Sobel’s group at Weizmann’s Brain Sciences Department, postulated that the latter is the case. She based her decision on two earlier observations.
First, multiple lines of evidence imply that humans are continually smelling themselves, albeit usually unconsciously. Second, humans frequently scent other individuals unconsciously. Furthermore, it is well known that individuals tend to make friends with others who are similar to them in looks, background, values, and even measurements such as brain activity. Ravreby postulated that when individuals unconsciously smelt themselves and others, they may be making subliminal comparisons and gravitating toward those whose scent is similar to their own.
Ravreby selected pairs of click friends to test her hypothesis: same-sex nonromantic friends whose connections had established quite quickly. She reasoned that because such connections arise prior to a more in-depth acquaintance, physiological factors such as body odour may have a greater effect.
She then took body odour samples from these click pals and executed two sets of studies to compare them to samples taken from random pairings of people. She did the comparison in one series of studies using the eNose, which analysed the chemical fingerprints of the scents. In the other, she invited volunteers to smell the two sets of body odour samples to see whether there were any commonalities based on human perception. Click buddies were found to smell substantially more like each other than persons in random pairs in both types of studies.
Ravreby therefore sought to rule out the notion that body odour similarity was a result of click friendships rather than a contributing factor.
What if the pals had a similar odour because they ate comparable foods or had other life events that impact body odour? To address this issue, Ravreby conducted an extra series of tests in which she utilised an eNose to “smell” a group of strangers and then invited them to participate in nonverbal social interactions in pairs.
Following each organised contact, participants assessed the other person based on how much they liked that person and how likely they were to become friends. Following investigation, it was discovered that the persons who had more good encounters smelt more like one other, as indicated by the eNose.
In fact, when Ravreby and statistician Dr. Kobi Snitz placed the data into a statistical model, they were able to predict which two persons will have a favourable social contact with 71 percent accuracy based just on eNose data. In other words, it indicates that body odour contains information that can predict the quality of social interactions between strangers.
“These findings suggest that, as the expression goes, there is chemistry in social chemistry,” Ravreby adds. Sobel issues a word of caution: “This is not to mean that people behave like goats or shrews; humans are likely to make social decisions based on other, far more dominating indications. Nonetheless, the findings of our study imply that our nose plays a larger part in our choice of friends than previously considered.”