Feeling Stressed Out? Science Says to Wear Your Partner's Shirt

One new study sheds light on the evolutionary power of human smell.

Anyone who's ever been in love knows that inhaling your partner's scent can give you an oxytocin rush like no other. But, according to a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, that's not the only reason that wearing your beloved's shirt makes you feel oh-so good.

Though previous research has already shown that the presence of your partner can make you feel less stressed, researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada were curious to see if the scent of a significant other alone could abate your anxiety. Turns out, it can!

The study recruited 96 men and asked the men to wear a clean t-shirt for 24 hours, during which time they couldn't smoke, wear deodorant or cologne, or do anything else that would affect their natural scent. Afterwards, the shirts were frozen to preserve any scents, and given to their female partners to smell. The women were also given T-shirts worn by men other than their partners to smell. Afterwards, researchers conducted mock interviews and gave participants math tests in an attempt to raise their stress levels, followed by a questionnaire and saliva samples to measure their stress levels.

As predicted, women who had smelled their partner's shirt had lower stress levels than those who had smelled the shirt of a stranger. What was particularly interesting was that women who recognized the smell as that of their partner had the lowest level of stress of all.

One of the more unexpected findings was smelling a stranger's shirt actually caused the stress levels of the women to rise, a response that researchers credit to evolution.

"Humans have developed to fear strangers, especially strange males," Marlise Hofer, a Ph.D. student in the department of psychology and lead author of the study, said. "It's possible that a strange male scent triggers the fight or flight response, even without us realizing it."

The reason that only the men were asked to put on t-shirts is because men tend to give off a stronger smell, and women are more acutely aware of it. Once again, from an evolutionary point of view, this makes total sense, as our most primal urges come from back in the day when cavewomen sought out men to protect them from animals or invaders. But Hofer did say that it would be interesting to do the same experiment on men to see whether or not their girlfriend's scent had a similar stress-reducing effect.

"I know I've personally seen men smelling the hair of their partner when they're standing behind them, so maybe they just have slightly different behaviors that are accomplishing basically the same thing," Hofer said.

Hofer and her colleagues are also interested in studying whether or not the scent of products that are frequently worn by one's partner, such as deodorant, cologne, or body wash, would have a similar effect.

We'd have to do more research to see if people exposed to familiar scents they associate with their partner have the same response or if this is something unique to our natural body odors," Hofer said.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more