HomeHealthSocial Anxiety: Odors from Other People’s Sweat May Help Ease Symptoms

Social Anxiety: Odors from Other People’s Sweat May Help Ease Symptoms

The aim of the study was to look at how people with social anxiety symptoms might benefit from mindfulness training, especially when coupled with exposure to social chemosignals.

To accomplish this goal, 48 women ages 18 to 35 years with social anxiety were divided into three groups containing 16 people each.

The women were then instructed to watch film clips that were chosen to elicit a particular emotion — such as happiness or fear — and sweat samples were collected.

For two days, the study participants went through mindfulness therapy. Simultaneously, they were exposed to either odor extracts from the various samples or to clean air.

At the end of the study, it was found that those who were exposed to the odors had a better response to therapy.

After one therapy session, anxiety scores were reduced by approximately 39% in the odor-exposed group. In comparison, there was only a 17% reduction in scores in the group who received therapy alone.

Myint said that our emotions can be influenced by a range of factors, including environmental stimuli.

“We emit chemo-signals, like sweat, which may contribute to this process,” he explained.

According to Myint, those with social anxiety might have a heightened sensitivity to social odors.

“By combining chemo-signal analysis with other treatment options for social anxiety, such as mindfulness therapy, it may be possible to improve the effectiveness of treatment,” he said.

Dr. Sarah L. Martin, Chief of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso, who was also not a part of the study, added that there were a few ways that the use of chemosignals could be helpful.

“If these ‘chemo-signals’ are found to be effective in treating anxiety, they would likely cause very few side effects compared to psychiatric medication,” she said, noting that many prefer non-drug methods of treatment due to concerns about side effects and the stigma that is attached to medication use.

“People who prefer ‘natural’ options might also prefer this sort of intervention,” she said, although she did note there is also stigma attached to body odor itself.

Myint said he finds the study design “intriguing.”

“These results suggest that human chemosignals in sweat may have implications for the treatment of social anxiety disorder, particularly in virtual or in-person settings.”

However, he says it’s important to keep in mind that this was a pilot study so further research is needed to confirm its findings.

Martin added to also keep in mind that it was a smaller study.

Additionally, she said that it might be a problem that the control group was exposed to clean air rather than sweat.

“[M]ost people would probably agree that the average study participant can easily tell the difference between the two, and so unless they change the control conditions, this could not be considered a blind study,” Martin said.

This doesn’t mean it’s invalid, she concluded, but it could be an area for improvement in future research.



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