I Smell Your Fear

28 Feb

The most primitive of our senses is olfactory–the sense of smell. It is also the most emotionally powerful. Once we have smelled something it is filed in our brains forever, and if we ever encounter the odor again, it is almost instantly recalled. Often with memories of that first encounter. A certain food, perfume, chemical, you name it, can pull us back in time more deeply than can any sight or sound.




But can you smell another’s emotion? Can you detect fear, or anger, or disgust with your nose? Animals can. If one dog or gazelle or wildebeest in a group senses fear, the other members of the group immediately sense the same danger. Herd mentality. Some of this might be transmitted through body language or certain movements, even facial expressions, but pheromones released by the concerned group member play a big role. So why shouldn’t we humans have the same ability?

Apparently, we do.

If the results of a recent study done by Gün Semin and colleagues from Utrecht University and published in Psychological Science can be believed, humans possess the ability to communicate emotions through chemical signals. This is an interesting study that used sweat to analyze these chemical transmitters.


6 responses to “I Smell Your Fear

  1. Cheryl B. Dale

    February 28, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    Interesting. Perhaps the ability in us has been watered down through the years of our so-called ‘civilizing’ progression?


  2. Francisco Dominguez G.

    March 1, 2013 at 8:32 am

    Excellent information. And illustrative photo.


  3. Daniel Smith

    March 1, 2013 at 8:33 am

    That’s interesting. It seems the process is automatic and unconscious so it stands to reason this could be the explanation for many so-called sixth sense experiences, ESP, etc. Sometimes, humans just “know” things and get a sense or a vibe about other people or places when they aren’t consciously aware of how they could have acquired that information. I think this line of research has real potential for explaining these phenomena and unlocking a little bit more of how our brains work.

    It’s also amazing that we already use the phrase “smelling fear”. Whoever said it first in associating smelling with emotions was apparently on target. How very, very interesting.


  4. Jan Christensen

    March 2, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    This is particularly fascinating to me because years ago I wrote a story that had the phrase “the smell of fear” in it. I knew when I wrote it that I didn’t make it up myself, that I must have read it, probably more than once, in other writings. One of the writers in my group insisted that I take it out because fear doesn’t smell. I wish I could show him this article. LOL


  5. gothrules

    March 2, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    Might account for a mob mentality when people go nuts and do things they wouldn’t do as individuals


  6. Christine Husom

    March 3, 2013 at 7:25 am

    I’ve noticed that through the years, and in my latest book, The Noding Field Mystery, when my deputies find someone’s clothes in the trunk of a car, this is what they say:
    Smoke lowered his face into the trunk “Smell that?”
    “What?” I asked, hearing the hesitation in my own voice.
    “Rank perspiration odor. Maybe Leder had a problem with B.O., or he didn’t change his clothes for a couple of days, or he ran a marathon, or he was scared shitless.” Smoke turned his head to the right and sucked in a lungful of better smelling air. “You know how sweat takes on a different smell when you’re under pressure.”
    Mandy agreed. “Yeah, it’s like a chemical thing.”



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