Stressed out? Take a whiff of your partner's shirt, UBC study suggests
CTV Vancouver Island
Published Wednesday, January 10, 2018 5:16PM PST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 10, 2018 6:47PM PST
When it comes to matters of the heart, it seems your nose knows.
New research out of the University of British Columbia has found the scent of your partner can help lower stress levels.
As part of the unique study, 96 men were handed a clean white T-shirt and told to wear it for 24 hours straight.
Their female partners then took stress tests before randomly smelling either an unworn shirt, a shirt worn by a stranger or their partner's shirt.
"We wanted to see whether people who were exposed to their partner's scent experienced less stress," said Marisa Hofer, a UBC psychology grad student and lead author of the study. "The main finding, which we were very excited about, was that women did perceive that they were less stressed…when they were exposed to their partner's shirt."
Hofer said the research team was also surprised to discover women exposed to a stranger's scent developed higher cortisol levels.
"We believe that exposure to a stranger's scent does trigger a fight-or-flight response," she said.
A Victoria-based perfumer agreed with the study's findings, saying the brain's limbic system responds to scents in a way that can trigger memories, desires and strong emotions.
"If you have really good associations with someone, and you love them, you're going to be flooded with some really pleasant feelings through your limbic system, and you're going to just naturally relax" said Karen Van Dyck. "If you're attracted to them, then there's also that aphrodisiac effect."
She said smelling a stranger's scent works much the same way, only with negative emotions.
"It could be, again, a memory of somebody who triggered you in a negative way," she said. "Or it can just be the stranger factor. When there's something strange, all of a sudden you're more alert and on the defensive."
Hofer said the findings likely apply to men the same way they do to women.
"Our hypothesis is not specific to one of the two sexes. We would predict males would have a similar response if they were exposed to their female partner's scent," she said.
The grad student wants to follow up her work by looking at whether the same scent relationship exists between parents and children – which could lead to breakthroughs in dealing with clingy kids.
"This is something that could have implications for separation anxiety in children when they first start daycare or when they first have to start sleeping alone in their own bedroom," she said.