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Scent Seduction: How You Smell Matters

The science of olfactory attraction.

Key points

  • Attraction is multimodal, involving a greater range of sensory perception.
  • People form impressions of others based in part on how they smell.
  • Aroma can influence self-confidence, which impacts perceived attractiveness.

For many people, the smell of suntan lotion or the ocean brings back memories of summertime past, and a whiff of freshly baked bread is reminiscent of family time around the dinner table in decades past. But apparently, our nose also reminds us of both places and people, for better or for worse. Research explains.

Source: StockSnap/Pixabay
Source: StockSnap/Pixabay

Beauty Is in the Nose of the Beholder

Agata Groyecka et al. (2017) discussed the multimodal nature of attraction in a piece entitled “Beauty is also in the Nose and Ear of the Beholder.”[i] They recognize that acoustic and olfactory cues strongly influence the perceived attractiveness of others, and impact actions and attitudes toward other people accordingly. They provide evidence supporting the influence of body odor, voice, and physical appearance on perceived personal attractiveness, as well as mate preferences.

Other research has shown that the perceived attractiveness of nonverbal behavior is impacted by the perceived quality of axillary body odor,[ii] and that olfactory sensations contribute to sexual desire.[iii] But there is more. Apparently, body odor also plays a role in the selection of the company we keep.

The Scent of Love, and Friendship

Mehmet K. Mahmut et al. (2019) in a piece entitled “Do Women Love Their Partner’s Smell?” investigated the female preference for and identification of the body odor of male partners, and non-partners.[iv] The women in the study brought in a shirt worn by either their partner or a male relative or friend while they were sweating. Results showed that women rated the body odor of their partners as significantly more familiar, similar, and sexy compared to a stranger’s body odor. However, the researchers noted that overall, the preference for a partner’s odor may not be due to mate selection, but repeated exposure to the smell.

Other research by Jessica M. Gaby and Vivian Zayas (2017) in a piece entitled “Smelling Is Telling”[v] demonstrated through studying the way participants formed impressions based on smell in same-sex dyads that olfactory cues have social value in non-mating contexts. Their results indicated that people perceive “reliable, meaningful social olfactory signals from whole bodies, at social distances,” regardless of whether or not the other person is wearing perfume, although they also found that the social value of the signals is impacted by adding fragrances.

The Sweet Smell of Success

Can someone emerge from a business meeting “smelling like a rose"? Perhaps if they know they smell that good. Charles Spence in a piece called “The Scent of Attraction and the Smell of Success” (2021)[vi] recognized that olfactory cues impact perceived attractiveness, affect, age, and personality. He concludes that olfactory cues subconsciously influence various aspects of person perception, establishing the relevance of smell on social interaction. Regarding scent-related success, he notes that aroma can influence a person’s self-confidence, which may impact how attractive they appear to others.

So in addition to working to cultivate relationships and enjoy time with friends, family, and financial pursuits, grab your favorite fragrance just in case.


[i] Groyecka, Agata, Katarzyna Pisanski, Agnieszka Sorokowska, Jan Havlíček, Maciej Karwowski, David Puts, S. Craig Roberts, and Piotr Sorokowski. 2017. “Attractiveness Is Multimodal: Beauty Is Also in the Nose and Ear of the Beholder.” Frontiers in Psychology 8 (May). doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00778.

[ii] Roberts, S. Craig, Alexandra Kralevich, Camille Ferdenzi, Tamsin K. Saxton, Benedict C. Jones, Lisa M. DeBruine, Anthony C. Little, and Jan Havlicek. 2011. “Body Odor Quality Predicts Behavioral Attractiveness in Humans.” Archives of Sexual Behavior 40 (6): 1111–17. doi:10.1007/s10508-011-9803-8.

[iii] Li, Zi-lin, Thomas Hummel, and Lai-quan Zou. 2022. “Sniffing of Body Odors and Individual Significance of Olfaction Are Associated with Sexual Desire: A Cross-Cultural Study in China, India, and the Usa.” Archives of Sexual Behavior, August. doi:10.1007/s10508-022-02398-1.

[iv] Mahmut, Mehmet K., Richard J. Stevenson, and Ian Stephen. 2019. “Do Women Love Their Partner’s Smell? Exploring Women’s Preferences for and Identification of Male Partner and Non-Partner Body Odor.” Physiology & Behavior 210 (October). doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2019.04.006.

[v] “Smelling Is Telling: Human Olfactory Cues Influence Social Judgments in Semi-Realistic Interactions.” Chemical Senses 42 (5): 405–18. doi:10.1093/chemse/bjx012.

[vi] Spence, Charles. 2021. “The Scent of Attraction and the Smell of Success: Crossmodal Influences on Person Perception.” Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications 6 (June). doi:10.1186/s41235-021-00311-3.

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