A new Rice University study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that socioemotional meanings, including sexual ones, are conveyed in human sweat.
Denise Chen, assistant professor of psychology at Rice, looked at
how the brains of female volunteers processed and encoded the smell of
sexual sweat from men. The results of the experiment indicated the
brain recognizes chemosensory communication, including human sexual
Scientists have long known that animals use scent to communicate.
Chen's study represents an effort to expand knowledge of how humans’
sense of smell complement their more powerful senses of sight and
The experiment directly studied natural human sexual sweat using
functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Nineteen healthy female
subjects inhaled olfactory stimuli from four sources, one of which was
sweat gathered from sexually aroused males.
The research showed that several parts of the brain are involved in
processing the emotional value of the olfactory information. These
include the right fusiform region, the right orbitofrontal cortex and
the right hypothalamus.
"With the exception of the hypothalamus, neither the orbitofrontal
cortex nor the fusiform region is considered to be associated with
sexual motivation and behavior," Chen said. "Our results imply that the
chemosensory information from natural human sexual sweat is encoded
more holistically in the brain rather than specifically for its sexual
Humans are evolved to respond to salient socioemotional information.
Distinctive neural mechanisms underlie the processing of emotions in
facial and vocal expressions. The findings help explain the neural
mechanism for human social chemosignals.
The understanding of human smell at the neural level is still at the
beginning stage. The present work is the first fMRI study of human
The research, co-authored by Chen and Wen Zhou, graduate student in
the Psychology Department, appeared in the December 31 issue of Journal
The research was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health.
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