Smelling Your Lover’s Shirt May Make You Less Stressed
A new study lends some scientific backing to anyone who’s ever worn their partner’s shirt or slept on their side of the bed when they weren’t around: According to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the scent of a romantic partner can help lower stress levels, even in his or her physical absence.
The scent of a stranger, on the other hand, raised stress-hormone levels in the study—an unexpected finding, say the authors, but one that does make evolutionary sense.
Previous research has shown that the presence of a romantic partner can lower stress levels, but scientists at the University of British Columbia in Canada wanted to see if their scent alone could do the same thing. They recruited 96 heterosexual couples and asked the men to wear a clean T-shirt for 24 hours, without using deodorant or scented body products, smoking or eating certain foods that could affect their natural scent.
Men were chosen to provide clothing samples because they tend to produce more scent, says lead author Marlise Hofer, a PhD student in the department of psychology. Women, meanwhile, have a naturally better sense of smell. After the shirts were worn for 24 hours, they were frozen to preserve any scents that were left behind.
The women in the study were then asked to smell a T-shirt that had either been unworn, worn by their partner or worn by another man they did not know. Immediately afterward, they were given a mock job interview and a difficult mental math exam designed to evoke stressful emotions. They also answered questions about their stress levels and provided saliva samples to measure levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
Women who had smelled their partner’s shirt reported feeling less stress both before and after their interview and exam, compared to those who had smelled an unworn shirt or a stranger’s shirt. Those who were able to recognize their partner’s scent also had lower cortisol levels than other women in the study, suggesting that the stress-relieving benefits may be greatest when a person is aware of what they’re sniffing.