People choose scents that boost natural body odours

Dr Caroline Allen
Psychology researcher Dr Caroline Allen
1 February 2016

A study by the University of Stirling has found that people choose fragrances which complement their natural scents.

Scientists found that individuals pick fragrances which maintain certain aspects of their natural body odour, rather than mask it completely.

Six male and six female donors provided odour samples without fragrance, wearing their own fragrance, and wearing an assigned fragrance. 296 female and 131 male participants were then asked to choose which two scents were from the same individual.

Dr Caroline Allen, Psychology researcher in the School of Natural Sciences who led the study, said: “We found people could match a person’s body odour more successfully when that person was wearing their chosen fragrance, with matches coming in significantly above chance compared to when the person was wearing an assigned fragrance. Females were also found to be better at matching odours than men.

“Participants were more likely to successfully match body odours when odour donors had been wearing their own fragrance, suggesting scents chosen by individuals in some way tie in with their own natural smell.”

Previous studies have found perfume preferences correlate with certain genetic markers and that perfumes of choice smell more pleasant with an individuals’ body odour than an assigned fragrance. In keeping with this, the Stirling-led research suggests people, particularly females, instinctively chose a scent that works in tandem with their individual body odour.

Dr Allen added: “We aimed to investigate the impact of artificial fragrances on the perception of individual body odours and determine whether fragrances might either mask or enhance these. For a while people have assumed that fragrances are used to mask odours, but it appears to be more complex than this. These findings suggest that we may subconsciously or unintentionally pick a scent that complements the unique way we each smell, thus maintaining the individuality of our own odour.”

Background information

The article ‘Effect of fragrance use on discrimination of individual body odor’ is published in Frontiers in Psychology.

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