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 November 26, 2014 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 November 26, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

From Popcorn To Vending Snacks: FDA Ups Calorie Count Rules

From Popcorn To Vending Snacks: FDA Ups Calorie Count Rules

Newsy (Nov. 25, 2014) — The US FDA is announcing new calorie rules on Tuesday that will require everywhere from theaters to vending machines to include calorie counts. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Daily Serving Of Yogurt Could Reduce Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes

Daily Serving Of Yogurt Could Reduce Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes

Newsy (Nov. 25, 2014) — Need another reason to eat yogurt every day? Researchers now say it could reduce a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Madagascar Working to Contain Plague Outbreak

Madagascar Working to Contain Plague Outbreak

AFP (Nov. 24, 2014) — Madagascar said Monday it is trying to contain an outbreak of plague -- similar to the Black Death that swept Medieval Europe -- that has killed 40 people and is spreading to the capital Antananarivo. Duration: 00:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Newsy (Nov. 24, 2014) — A new study links greater authority with increased depressive symptoms among women in the workplace. Video provided by Newsy
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