Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Empathy: smells like T-shirt spirit

We usually recognise people by sight or sound but new research suggests that those people who are good at recognising people by smell might also be better at distinguishing emotions and more empathetic. Researchers from the Institute of Psychology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Rice University in Texas studied 44 female undergraduates who were asked to smell three T-shirts and identify the one that belonged to their room mate. The T-shirts had been worn overnight for an average of eight hours and their owners had been asked to use scent-free toiletries for two days beforehand. Those students who were best at identifying their room mate's T-shirt also excelled at a task of identifying people's facial emotions and in a test of empathy where they had to say how people would feel in certain situations. However, it was only the ability to use smell to identify their room mates that was linked to high performance in these tests - there was no link to general keenness of smell or the ability to name a range of different odours. The intensity and pleasantness of the T-shirt smells were also unrelated to the students' ability to identify their room mates.

You can find out more about this research at

In another study researchers at Glasgow University who measured electrical activity in the brains of young and older people found that young people were significantly quicker at recognising faces.

You can find out more about this research at

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