Common physical symptoms such as fatigue, chest pain and lower back pain are related to the perception of everyday smells, University of Nottingham researchers will tell delegates at a health psychology conference on campus.
The researchers investigated how stress, intense odours and personality combined to explain everyday physical symptoms that appear to have no medical basis — such as abdominal pain, fatigue, chest pain and lower back pain.
They studied 194 individuals, who completed a structured diary twice a day for eight days, recording their experiences of common physical symptoms, odours, sounds and stress. Seventy different odours were reported with hot food, paint, smoke/fire, coffee, and chemicals the most frequently mentioned.
Symptoms were reported to worsen at the same time as the intensity of odour, and levels of stress, increased. However, only the intensity of odour, not stress, predicted future symptom reporting over a short half-day interval.
Professor Eamonn Ferguson said: “These results highlight the importance of everyday odour with respect to the experience of common physical symptom, showing that common environmental experiences, rather than stress, predict symptoms over short intervals. It may be that people come to associate particular odours with symptoms and the experience of the odour 'triggers' the experience of symptoms.”
Professor Ferguson and Dr Helen Cassaday, with colleague Dr Jane Ward of the University of Loughborough, described their findings to fellow academics from all over the country at a British Psychological Society (BPS) event running from September 12-14.
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