Smelling your partner’s clothes helps to reduce stress levels, new research finds.
Women who smelled their partner’s t-shirt felt calmer afterwards.
In comparison, those who smelled a stranger’s t-shirt experienced increases in the stress hormone, cortisol.
Women may be particularly susceptible to the effect as their sense of smell is stronger than men.
Ms Marlise Hofer, the study’s lead author, said:
“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 behaviours.
Our findings suggest that a partner’s scent alone, even without their physical presence, can be a powerful tool to help reduce stress.”
96 opposite-sex couples were included in the study.
The women were subjected to a mock interview and math test to make them stressed.
Afterwards, they smelled t-shirts that were either unworn, smelled of their partner, or of a stranger.
Saliva tests showed that cortisol was lower when women smelled their partner’s t-shirt.
The stress-reducing effect was even stronger if the women successfully recognised the t-shirt as belonging to their partner.
Ms Hofer said:
“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.”
Dr Frances Chen, study co-author, said:
“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.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Hofer et al., 2018).