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Does Odor Help Make Friends?

By: Tiffany Wong

It’s not polite to smell other people. We all have our odors, pleasant or not, our odors might mean something. Like someone who hasn't taken a shower for a long time, or maybe a baby who acts like he or she didn’t poop his/her diaper. But scientists wonder if the molecules in our skin affect our brain. Are they “bearing messages” that helps make the decisions we make without realizing it? In a small study published on Wednesday in Science Advances, researchers investigated pairs of friends whose friendship “clicked.” They found each person’s body odor was closer to their friend’s than expected. And when the researchers got pairs of strangers to play a game together, they felt a small connection because of their body odor.

According to the New York Times, “There are many factors that shape whom people become friends with, including how, when, or where we meet a new person. But perhaps one thing we pick up on, the researchers suggest, is how they smell.”

Scientists who study friendship have also found out that friends have more in common than strangers (duh). Not just things like age or hobbies, but also genetics, patterns of brain activity, and appearance. Inbal Ravreby, a graduate student in the lab of Noam Sobel, an olfaction researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, was also curious about friendship. She got 20 pairs of acquaintances. Next, she told each of them to stop eating foods like onions and garlic, which affect body odor, for a few days. Plus, they aren’t allowed to shave or use deodorant or perfume. No more using scented shampoo for a few days too! Lastly, they must put on freshly clean lab clothing. After the research, they found out that the friends’ odors were more similar to each other than those of strangers. That means that their odors were probably how their friendship started.

“At least some of them were probably using perfumes when they met,” Ms. Ravreby speculated. “But it did not mask whatever they had in common.”

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