Turns out we’re not so different from dogs.
When my dogs are sniffing out a passing pup’s butt, I often try to alleviate the human awkwardness of the moment by commenting something like, “If only it were that easy for people to find friends.” I usually get at least a small ironic chuckle in response, but it turns out that it might actually be that easy. New research suggests that smell plays an important part in whether or not we bond with others — we literally sniff each other out.
The study, which was published this morning in the journal Science Advances, analyzed the similarities in body odor among friends. To do so, scientists conducted two experiments: In the first, they collected smell samples from “click friends” — literally people who “clicked” with each other right away — and analyzed them using an electronic nose. They found that people who liked each other immediately had similar smell profiles when compared to a control group. In other words, fast friends tended to smell alike.
While that fact alone is pretty cool, the researchers wanted to prove that friends don’t smell alike just because they have similar lifestyles (think: eating the same foods). So, they conducted a second experiment in which they introduced volunteers who were previously strangers to each other. After the interaction, participants were asked to rate the quality of their meet-and-greet. In that experiment, researchers found that people were more likely to have a positive interaction with a stranger who smelled like them.
What all this tells us is that smell plays a larger role in human bonding than we might have previously imagined. The scientists were even able to accurately predict the quality of interaction between two individuals based on their scent profiles about 71% of the time, according to the study. “These results imply that, as the saying goes, there is chemistry in social chemistry,” Inbal Ravreby, a researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, said in a news release about the study. Basically, some of what we colloquially refer to as “chemistry” actually is chemistry.
Scientific queries about how or whether humans bond through scent aren’t exactly new — recent research shows that using the T-shirt of a loved one as a pillowcase will help you sleep better. But this study does confirm a suspicion many of us have: We are not so evolved that we’re above a little bottom sniffing to check each other out.