When you’re in love, everything seems different – and that includes your sense of smell. Women who are deeply in love struggle to recognise the body odour of male friends, but their ability to distinguish their partner’s smell is unaffected.
Body odours are known to play a role in human sexual attraction. But how does falling in love affect our perception and processing of these smells?
To find out, Johan Lundström and Marilyn Jones-Gotman of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, asked a group of 20 young women with boyfriends to fill in a Passionate Love Scale questionnaire (pdf format) to determine just how much in love they were. Meanwhile, the women’s partners and male and female friends slept for a seven nights in a cotton T-shirt with pads sewn into the underarms to soak up their sweat.
In a series of trials, each woman was asked to pick out their lover’s or a friend’s T-shirt from three garments, two of which had been worn by strangers. The women’s scores on the Passionate Love Scale made no difference to their ability to recognise a lover’s shirt, or that worn by a female friend. But those who were more deeply in love were less good at distinguishing a male friend’s odour from those of strangers.