Can’t afford therapy? According to a quirky new study, smelling your partner’s t-shirt can work as a sort of DIY destresser.
In the study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers from the University of British Columbia did this scent-stress test on 96 heterosexual couples.
The women were randomly assigned to smell t-shirts worn either by their romantic partner, a stranger, or by no one, for a control. They were not informed which shirts they would be sniffing.
To protect their natural pheromones from any competing olfactory influences, the men were told to wear a clean shirt for 24 hours and refrain from applying deodorant, smoking or eating pungent foods.
Then, the women were exposed to an “acute stressor” — a mock job interview and a math exam! Both their perceived stress and cortisol levels were measured throughout the study, by answering questions about how they were feeling and through saliva samples, respectively.
The women who huffed their lover’s t-shirt aroma reported lower perceived stress levels before and after the stress test — during “stress anticipation” and “stress recovery” — and those who said they recognized their lover's scent were found to have lower cortisol levels. Women who instead got a whiff of a stranger’s shirt had elevated cortisol levels throughout the study. Boo hoo.
Sounds like some cuffing season propaganda to me — and released just six weeks out from Valentine’s Day!
Lead author Marlise Hofer, a PhD student in psychology, told Time opted for the male subjects to provide clothing samples because men tend to produce more scent, while women have a stronger sense of smell. She commented that they’d be interested in doing the same study the other way around, or testing out the scent-stress relationship between parents and children; but, oddly, made no mention of applying it to same sex couples. In 2018, this seems pretty retrograde.
Also, if anyone's interested, I would happily participate in a study in which I smell my dog’s sweater when I’m stressed out, since that’s the loving relationship I’m in.