The smell of clothes of your partner could have a powerfully calming effect. Smelling partner’s shirt can lower stress level in women, a recent study has found. Women feel calmer after being exposed to their male partner’s scent.
The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found women had the opposite effect and raised the level of the stress hormone when exposed to a stranger’s scent.
"Many people wear their partner's shirt or sleep on their partner's side of the bed when their partner is away, but may not realize why they engage in these behaviors," said Marlise Hofer, the study's lead author and a graduate student in the UBC Department of Psychology. "Our findings suggest that a partner's scent alone, even without their physical presence, can be a powerful tool to help reduce stress," added Hofer.
For the study, the research team surveyed 96 opposite-sex couples. Men were given a t-shirt without deodorant and scented body products to wear for 24 hours. They were also told to refrain from smoking and having certain foods that could affect their scent. After that, the t-shirts were frozen to preserve the scent.
The women participants were given t-shirts which were either unworn or had been worn by a stranger or their partner. They were not told whether it is their partner’s or stranger’s t-shirt. The researchers carried out a stress test on the women participants that involved a mock job interview and a mental math task.
The women were asked to act as smeller since they tend to have a better sense of smell compared to men. The findings revealed that women who smelled their partner’s t-shirt felt less stressed both before and after the stress test. Those who both correctly identified and smelled the scent of their partner’s shirt had lower levels of cortisol, which suggests that the stress-reducing benefits of a partner's scent are strong when women know what they're smelling.
Whereas, women participants who had smelled scent of t-shirt other than their partner’s found to have higher cortisol levels throughout the stress test. According to researchers, the evolutionary factors could influence why the stranger's scent affected cortisol levels.
"From a young age, humans fear strangers, especially strange males. So, it is possible that a strange male scent triggers the 'fight or flight' response that leads to elevated cortisol. This could happen without us being fully aware of it," said Hofer.
The findings could have practical implications to help people deal with situations involving stress in case of long-distance relationships or when they’re away from their partner, said Frances Chen, the study's senior author and assistant professor in the UBC Department of Psychology.
"With globalization, people are increasingly traveling for work and moving to new cities. Our research suggests that something as simple as taking an article of clothing that was worn by your loved one could help lower stress levels when you're far from home," said Chen.
By Sowmya Sangam