Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

The special scent of age: Body odor gives away age

Date:
May 30, 2012
Source:
Monell Chemical Senses Center
Summary:
Humans can identify the age of other humans based on differences in body odor. Much of this ability is based on the capacity to identify odors of elderly individuals, and contrary to popular supposition, the so-called "old-person smell" is rated as less intense and less unpleasant than body odors of middle-aged and young individuals.

Baby-smell. Humans can identify the age of other humans based on differences in body odor.
Credit: © S.Kobold / Fotolia

New findings from the Monell Center reveal that humans can identify the age of other humans based on differences in body odor. Much of this ability is based on the capacity to identify odors of elderly individuals, and contrary to popular supposition, the so-called 'old-person smell' is rated as less intense and less unpleasant than body odors of middle-aged and young individuals.

Related Articles


"Similar to other animals, humans can extract signals from body odors that allow us to identify biological age, avoid sick individuals, pick a suitable partner, and distinguish kin from non-kin," said senior author Johan Lundström, a sensory neuroscientist at Monell.

Like non-human animals, human body odors contain a rich array of chemical components that can transmit various types of social information. The perceptual characteristics of these odors are reported to change across the lifespan, as are concentrations of the underlying chemicals.

Scientists theorize that age-related odors may help animals select suitable mates: older males might be desirable because they contribute genes that enable offspring to live longer, while older females might be avoided because their reproductive systems are more fragile.

In humans, a unique 'old person smell' is recognized across cultures. This phenomenon is so acknowledged in Japan that there is a special word to describe this odor, kareishū.

Because studies with non-human animals at Monell and other institutions have demonstrated the ability to identify age via body odor, Lundström's team examined whether humans are able to do the same.

In the study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, body odors were collected from three age groups, with 12-16 individuals in each group: Young (20-30 years old), Middle-age (45-55), and Old-age (75-95). Each donor slept for five nights in unscented t-shirts containing underarm pads, which were then cut into quadrants and placed in glass jars.

Odors were assessed by 41 young (20-30 years old) evaluators, who were given two body odor glass jars in nine combinations and asked to identify which came from the older donors. Evaluators also rated the intensity and pleasantness of each odor. Finally evaluators were asked to estimate the donor's age for each odor sample.

Evaluators were able to discriminate the three donor age categories based on odor cues. Statistical analyses revealed that odors from the old-age group were driving the ability to differentiate age. Interestingly, evaluators rated body odors from the old-age group as less intense and less unpleasant than odors from the other two age groups.

"Elderly people have a discernible underarm odor that younger people consider to be fairly neutral and not very unpleasant," said Lundström. "This was surprising given the popular conception of old age odor as disagreeable. However, it is possible that other sources of body odors, such as skin or breath, may have different qualities."

Future studies will both attempt to identify the underlying biomarkers that evaluators use to identify age-related odors and also determine how the brain is able to identify and evaluate this information.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Monell Chemical Senses Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Mitro S, Gordon AR, Olsson MJ, Lundström JN. The Smell of Age: Perception and Discrimination of Body Odors of Different Ages. PLoS ONE, May 30, 2012 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038110

Cite This Page:

Monell Chemical Senses Center. "The special scent of age: Body odor gives away age." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 May 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120530172426.htm>.
Monell Chemical Senses Center. (2012, May 30). The special scent of age: Body odor gives away age. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120530172426.htm
Monell Chemical Senses Center. "The special scent of age: Body odor gives away age." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120530172426.htm (accessed March 29, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

S. Leone in New Anti-Ebola Lockdown

S. Leone in New Anti-Ebola Lockdown

AFP (Mar. 28, 2015) — Sierra Leone imposed a three-day nationwide lockdown Friday for the second time in six months in a bid to prevent a resurgence of the deadly Ebola virus. Duration: 01:17 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
These Popular Antibiotics Can Cause Permanent Nerve Damage

These Popular Antibiotics Can Cause Permanent Nerve Damage

Newsy (Mar. 27, 2015) — A popular class of antibiotic can leave patients in severe pain and even result in permanent nerve damage. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
WH Plan to Fight Antibiotic-Resistant Germs

WH Plan to Fight Antibiotic-Resistant Germs

AP (Mar. 27, 2015) — The White House on Friday announced a five-year plan to fight the threat posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria amid fears that once-treatable germs could become deadly. (March 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
House Ready to Pass Medicare Doc Bill

House Ready to Pass Medicare Doc Bill

AP (Mar. 26, 2015) — In rare bipartisan harmony, congressional leaders pushed a $214 billion bill permanently blocking physician Medicare cuts toward House passage Thursday, moving lawmakers closer to resolving a problem that has plagued them for years. (March 26) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins