Your sweat carries ‘traces’ of your emotions

March 7th, 2009 - 3:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 7 (IANS) Animals facing threats warn members of their own species by releasing chemicals, prompting them to take appropriate evasive action. Rice University psychologist Denise Chen suggests a similar phenomenon also occurs in humans. She studied whether the smell of fear facilitates humans’ other stronger senses.
Chen and graduate student Wen Zhou collected “fearful sweat” samples from male volunteers. The volunteers kept gauze pads in their armpits while they were shown films that dealt with topics known to inspire fear.

Later, female volunteers were exposed to chemicals from the “fearful sweat” when they were fitted with a piece of gauze under their nostrils. They then viewed images of faces that morphed from happy to ambiguous to fearful. They were asked to indicate whether the face was happy or fearful by pressing buttons on a computer.

Exposure to the smell of fear biased women toward interpreting facial expressions as more fearful, but only when the expressions were ambiguous. It had no effect when the facial emotions were more discernable.

Chen’s conclusion is consistent with what’s been found with processing emotions in both the face and the voice. There, an emotion from one sense modulates how the same emotion is perceived in another sense, especially when the signal to the latter sense is ambiguous.

“Our findings provide direct behavioural evidence that human sweat contains emotional meanings. They also demonstrate that social smells modulate vision in an emotion-specific way,” Chen said, according to a Rice statement.

Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the study was published in the February issue of Psychological Science.

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