This smells fishy.
A new study has found that social anxiety can be reduced with the help of human “chemo-signals” — in this case, other people’s body odor.
Although it seems unappealing, exposure to the stink reduced social anxiety by nearly 40% when accompanied by mindfulness therapy, researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden discovered.
“Our state of mind causes us to produce molecules (or chemo-signals) in sweat, which communicate our emotional state and produce corresponding responses in the receivers,” lead researcher Elisa Vigna told SWNS.
“The results of our preliminary study show that combining these chemo-signals with mindfulness therapy seem to produce better results in treating social anxiety than can be achieved by mindfulness therapy alone.”
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), affecting approximately 15 million US adults, is defined as an intense fear of being judged or rejected in social settings.
Those who have social anxiety tend to avoid certain situations and can feel distressed if these environments are inescapable.
People’s anxiety levels have grown significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, surveys have shown.
This latest study used samples of volunteers’ sweat, extracting chemo-signals and exposing participants to them.
Sweat and smells were collected while the volunteers experienced various feelings.
Researchers chose a range of movie clips meant to elicit emotions, such as joy or fear, to determine if the effects of the chemo-signals differed based on the reactions of the perspiring person.
Forty-eight women aged 15 to 35 with social anxiety participated in the study.
They were divided into three groups and subjected to the scent treatment for two days, with one group exposed to clean air as the control. All groups received mindfulness therapy as well.
The team found that after undergoing one session of mindfulness therapy with the chemo-signals, social anxiety was reduced by about 39%. In contrast, the control group only saw a 17% decrease.
“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,” Vigna said.
Researchers didn’t observe a difference in outcomes based on the emotional state of the perspiring person.
“So there may be something about human chemo-signals in sweat generally which affects the response to treatment,” Vigna added, saying further research is necessary.
The scientists say they are in the process of a follow-up study to test the BO collected during “emotionally neutral documentaries.”
Vigna is “hopeful” the results can yield a new type of treatment for people who experience social anxiety. Their findings could increase “the effectiveness of standalone e-health interventions (such as meditation apps).”
The research was presented at the European Congress of Psychiatry in Paris this weekend.
Dr. Julian Beezhold, from the University of East Anglia, said the “findings are interesting,” but require further independent studies.
“We welcome this study, looking at one of the least-researched senses and its interaction with mental health,” Beezhold, who was not involved in the research, told SWNS.
Previous studies have found that exercise and meditation can also alleviate symptoms of anxiety, while pheromones — or, chemo-signals — have been observed to play a role in relationships.
A study last year found single bachelors smell more strongly than married men, while the women of TikTok relied on “vabbing” — using vaginal fluids as a kind of perfume — to attract singletons at the bar.
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