Stress is something we all have to deal with on a day to day basis. We do our best to handle stress levels, either by doing things that benefit our health, like exercising, or by relying on more unhealthy methods, such as smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol.
However, perhaps there is another way to handle stress. New research from the University of British Columbia has found that you can help lower stress levels by simply smelling your romantic partner.
The team of researchers found that women feel calmer after being exposed to their male partner’s scent, and that the opposite effect occurred when exposed to a stranger’s scent. The stress hormone, cortisol, increased when women smelled someone they didn’t know.
“Many people wear their partner’s shirt or sleep on their partner’s side of the bed when their partner is away, but may not realize why they engage in these behaviors. Our findings suggest that a partner’s scent alone, even without their physical presence, can be a powerful tool to help reduce stress,” said Marlise Hofer, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in the UBC Department of Psychology.
Women were the focus of this study as they tend to have a better sense of smell compared to men. The women were not told which person each scent derived from.
Looking at stress level responses of women
The study in question looked at 96 opposite-sex couples. Men were given a clean t-shirt to wear for 24 hours and were requested not to use deodorant or scented body products. Additionally, men were told to refrain from smoking and eating certain food that could affect how they smell. The t-shirts were frozen to preserve the scent.
Women of the study were then assigned to smell three different T-shirts: one that was unworn, one that was worn by their partner, and the last was worn by a stranger. A stress test was then conducted on them, which consisted of a mock interview and a mental math task. Questions about stress levels were also asked as well as taking saliva samples to measure cortisol levels.
It was found that women who smelled t-shirts of their partner’s felt less stressed both before and after the given stress test. Women who correctly identified their partner’s shirt had lower levels of cortisol, suggesting lower stress levels, which were boosted when women knew what they were smelling.
On the opposite spectrum, women who smelled a stranger’s scent were found to have higher cortisol levels throughout the stress test.
An evolutionary trait
The researchers speculate that this could be an evolutionary trait, where unrecognized scents puts us in alert mode for the sake of our own safety.
“With globalization, people are increasingly traveling for work and moving to new cities. Our research suggests that something as simple as taking an article of clothing that was worn by your loved one could help lower stress levels when you’re far from home,” said Frances Chen, the study’s senior author and assistant professor in the UBC Department of Psychology.