We often hear how social bonding develops between people almost instantly when they meet. Now, researchers have found that a similar smell seems to play a role in such instances.
In the study that appeared in the journal Science Advances recently, scientists observed that people who have similar body odors have a higher likelihood of becoming instant friends. Their findings show that there is “actual chemistry in social chemistry.”
“Nonhuman terrestrial mammals constantly sniff themselves and each other and, based on this, decide who is friend or foe,” wrote the researchers from Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science.
Several experiments carried out by the team suggested that comparable smells make people more likely to “click” instantly. These body odors make persons who have just met feel like they have known each other previously.
Body odors and friendship
These researchers, led by Inbal Ravreby, began with the hypothesis that humans – like nonhuman terrestrial animals – perceive themselves and others. They imagined this enable people to assess compatibility instinctively.
The team enrolled 20 pairs of non-romantic, same-sex friends – half male and half female – to test its hypothesis. These subjects, who were in the age range of 22 to 39 years, claimed to have become friends instantly at first sight.
Ravreby and her colleagues made the study participants sleep in provided clean cotton T-shirts, away from their partners and pets. They also ensured that the subjects avoided pungent foods.
The T-shirts worn by these participants were collected and tested with an electronic nose (eNose), which features sensors for evaluating the chemical composition of odors. The device revealed body odors were more similar in friend pairs, compared to random or non-friend pairs.
Researchers also brought in human smellers to confirm the eNose results. These people verified that friends have more similar smells than stranger pairs. In one of several tests carried out, for instance, human smellers successfully identified the smells of two friends when presented with three body odors.
It could be argued that people can develop similar body odors as a result of constant interactions as friends. Researchers, therefore, went ahead to prove that it is like smells that may trigger friendships.
The team recruited 17 people who were strangers to one another this time. These individuals took part in what was called the “Mirror Game.” This non-verbal game, which involved imitating hand movements, ensured that subjects were in a position to smell each other.
The eNose device was also used to check likeness in the strangers’ body odors.
Results were in harmony with what Ravreby and her fellow researchers had found in initial experiments. People who smelled similar were more likely to report liking and understanding each other. Similar body odors fostered a feeling of better chemistry between individuals.
The research team stated that the similarity in smells between friends was more than a chance happening.
Ravreby and her colleagues wrote that results from this study suggest that humans smell themselves and others, like other terrestrial animals, to determine compatibility. This was regardless of the fact that the effects of body odors may have been amplified in lab settings.