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Smell of friends? As for science, it is less clear to outsiders

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Is the sweat of friends more likely than the sweat of strangers?

  • Bad smell from friends is an interesting phenomenon discovered by a team of researchers from the National Academy of Sciences in the United States
  • Participants smelled the sweaty shirts of friends and strangers, and found those of their friends to be more tolerable
  • The brain gets used to the smells of people we are in romantic relationships with, which makes them less unpleasant
  • Perception of smells is exacerbated if we know that they come from strangers
  • The tolerance of friends’ odors reflects our ability to adapt and the nature of interpersonal relationships

Friends smell badIt may seem like an unexpected movie title halfway between trash and horror, but it’s actually the focus of an interesting study conducted by researchers from the National Academy of Sciences in the United States. This study, published in the prestigious scientific journal Focus, explored a strange phenomenon: the smell of our close friends’ sweat is less intense and more tolerable than that of complete strangers. But what is the scientific explanation behind this discovery?

Scientists conducted a certain experiment to understand this phenomenon. They asked a group of boys to smell several sweat-soaked and foul-smelling shirts, without initially revealing the source of the clothes. They were then told that some of the shirts belonged to their friends or acquaintances, while others were worn by complete strangers.

The result of the experiment showed that participants found their friends’ sweaty clothes much more tolerable than strangers’ clothes. This result is attributed to increased familiarity and habituation to the smells of people we like. In other words, our brain tends to accept and tolerate the scents of people with whom we have emotional connections better.

Customs and relationships between people

The phenomenon observed in the study can be compared to the dynamics of marital relationships. Just as we become accustomed to our partner’s scent, our friends’ scents also become less unpleasant over time. The scientific explanation is that our olfactory system adapts to familiar smells, making them less noticeable and less unpleasant.

This adaptation is due to a psychological and physiological process: when we get to know someone and establish a relationship of trust and friendship with them, our brain tends to view their body odors as less threatening. Therefore, the smell of a friend’s sweat is perceived as less intense than that of a stranger, whose smell can trigger a stronger repulsive response.

Olfactory suggestion

During the experiment, suggestion played an important role. Once the participants knew which item of clothing belonged to the strangers, their perception of the odors changed dramatically. The unpleasant odors immediately became more unpleasant and difficult to tolerate. This phenomenon shows how our mind is influenced not only by the knowledge of smells, but also by the information we receive regarding their origin.

Heredity and friendship

Another interesting finding has to do with genetics: friends tend to have more similar DNA than strangers. A study of nearly 2,000 people revealed that our friends share about 1% of our genes, a level of genetic similarity similar to that found between fourth cousins. This similarity is particularly evident in genes associated with smell, which may explain why we find our friends’ scents more tolerable.

In conclusion, the study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences revealed an interesting aspect of our social relationships: tolerance to odors is influenced by emotional bonds. Friends’ sweat is less annoying because our brain gets used to these smells and is reassured by them. This phenomenon, which may seem trivial, actually has profound implications for our understanding of social dynamics and human relationships.


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