Sweat odors from other people treats social anxiety? Yes, finds study

Turns out, there's something about 'chemo-signals' in our sweat that can help others.
Sade Agard
Close up of woman back with sweat
Close up of woman back with sweat


Swedish researchers found that breathing in human odors released from other people's sweat helped lower social anxiety when tested on volunteers.

The findings may open doors to a new way of treating people with Social Anxiety Disorder.

How do we reduce anxiety through sweating?

Those who suffer from social anxiety frequently worry excessively about engaging in social activities. This may impact interactions in various contexts, including the office, personal relationships, and regular activities like shopping and vacations.

This could make it challenging to live a typical life without overthinking social interactions.

Now, researchers demonstrated in a pilot trial that patients who underwent mindfulness therapy while exposed to human 'chemo-signals,' or what we generally refer to as body odor, derived from underarm sweat from volunteers, experienced less social anxiety.

Sweat samples were taken from volunteers as they watched brief movie clips that were selected to evoke specific emotional states, such as fear or happiness. This was done to determine whether the particular emotions felt while perspiring impacted the treatment differently.

After collecting the sweat, researchers gathered 48 women, ages 15 to 35, who suffered from social anxiety and separated them into three groups of 16.

"We found that the women in the group exposed to sweat from people who had been watching funny or fearful movies responded better to mindfulness therapy than those who hadn't been exposed," said Ms. Elisa Vigna of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm while presenting the results at the European Congress of Psychiatry in Paris.

She highlighted that the team had been surprised by their discovery that the treatment results were unaffected by the emotional state of the individual who created the sweat. In other words, joyful people produced the same effect as someone who had just watched a scary movie clip.

"So there may be something about human chemo-signals in sweat generally which affects the response to treatment," she said.

"We found that individuals who undertook one treatment session of mindfulness therapy together with being exposed to human body odors showed about 39 percent reduction in anxiety scores)," Ms. Vigna continued.

"For comparison, in the group receiving only mindfulness (i.e., the control group), we saw a 17 percent reduction in anxiety scores after one treatment session."

The team is optimistic that their findings could result in a new approach to treating people with Social Anxiety Disorder, such as boosting the efficiency of standalone e-health interventions (like meditation apps). Alternatively, it could offer an additional treatment option for those who don't respond to the current treatment.

That said, they point out that this is only a proof-of-concept study, so they are now starting a more extensive investigation to confirm the results.

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