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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 20-Jan-12

 


Friday 20-January-10

The smell of fear

We talk about 'the smell of fear' but is it true? Can animals detect scared other animals and hence identify potential prey? If you are frightened of a vicious dog, are they more likely to attack? And what about people? Can we small fear?

Researchers Alexander Prehn-Kristensen and colleagues captured the smell of fear from cotton pads placed under the arms of students waiting to give a worrisome presentation. The researchers also collected fear-free sweat from the armpits of students doing cycling exercises. Then they administered the smells to other students whilst scanning their brains.

The result of the experiment was clear evidence that, even when we cannot consciously tell the difference, the emotional parts of the brain still light up when we are given the whiff of fear-tinged sweat, including the insula, the precuneus, the cingulate gyrus, the fusiform cortex and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (just as we might expect :).

Interesting stuff! If people can smell fear it seems very likely that animals can too, so do stay calm around any nasty nippers. It may also have some effect on how we respond to one another, from bullying to tender empathy (depending, perhaps, on our nature).

Reference:
Prehn-Kristensen, A., Wiesner, C., Bergmann, T., Wolff, S., Jansen, O., Mehdorn, H., Ferstl, R., & Pause, B. (2009). Induction of Empathy by the. Smell of Anxiety. PLoS ONE, 4 (6)


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