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Women Can Detect Body Odor More Effectively Than Men


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By Margarita Nahapetyan

There is no chance that you could fool a woman when it comes to smelling the body odor. The U.S. scientists found that it is women, and not men, who are more sensitive among two genders, to perceive biologically relevant information from body sweat.

According to the study's lead author, Charles J. Wysocki, PhD, a behavioral neuroscientist at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, it is very hard to block body odor perception in female, whereas it is very easy to so in men. The experts say that the reason could be attributed to the fact that women are biologically more attuned to body smells that may guide them when choosing a mate.

In the new experiment, male and female volunteers have been recruited to rate the strength of underarm sweat samples from both genders, both alone and in combination with various fragrances. One sensory panel was used to evaluate fragrances for their ability to counteract underarm odor of women, another panel was used to judge the effectiveness of various scents against male odor. Each panel contained representatives from both genders. In order to evaluate and rate the smell, the participants were offered to sniff samples of underarm sweat that have been collected in the lab from volunteers prior to the study. The participants first were asked to rate the intensity of underarm odor to provide a measure of the odor's strength. Later they continued to rate underarm odor intensity while smelling a scent for a little more than 2 minutes. A decrease in intensity ratings for the underarm odor showed that the scent was a successful cross-adapting agent, which was able to neutralize the smell.

The fragrances have been chosen to determine the participants' ability to block underarm smell through a method known as cross-adaptation. Olfactory adaptation means when a person loses sensitivity to an odor when being constantly exposed to it. Olfactory cross-adaptation occurs when the nose adapts to one odor and afterwards also becomes less sensitive to another odor.

The scientists found that when the participants sniffed the body odor on its own, it smelled equally strong to both women and men. But when the experts mixed the body odor with other fragrances, the smell of the sweat was often hidden for men, though women, in general, were very good at detecting it anyway. The study tested 32 fragrances to figure out how well they could mask the body smell. In contrast to women, 19 of the fragrances significantly reduced the strength of underarm odor for men, whereas only 2 out of 32 scents successfully overpowered the sweaty smell for the ladies.

Dr. Wysocki said that in previous studies, men and women did not show any differences in their ability to cross-adapt to odors that were not related to the body. "Taken together, our studies indicate that human sweat conveys information that is of particular importance to females. This may explain why it is so difficult to block women's perception of sweat odors," he said. The study also found that not only ladies were better sniffers compared to gentlemen, but also that it was much more complicated to block male odors than to do so with female ones. Even though there was no difference in how strong underarm odor was in both genders, only 19 per cent of the fragrances successfully reduced the strength of underarm sweat in men. On the contrary, more than 50 per cent reduced intensity of the equivalent in women.

The findings are published online in the latest edition of the Flavor and Fragrance Journal.

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