The special scent of age

May 30, 2012

People can identify other people's ages based on their body odors, according to a study published May 30 in the open access journal PLoS ONE. Much of this ability is based on identifying odors of elderly individuals, but contrary to popular belief, the so-called 'old-person smell' is less intense and less unpleasant than body odors of middle-aged and young individuals, the researchers report.

Like non-human animals, human body odors contain an array of chemical components that can transmit various types of social information, and the composition of these odors changes across a person's lifespan. To test whether people can intuitively sense these changes, the researchers, led by Johan Lundström of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, collected body odors, in the form of a t-shirt with underarm pads slept in for five nights, from young, middle-aged, and old participants. These scents were then assessed by a different set of evaluators, who were asked to rate the intensity and pleasantness of each odor, identify which of two scents came from the older individual, and estimate the age of the individual who produced each sample.

The participants were able to discriminate between the three donor age categories, and the researchers found that it was odors from the old-age group that were driving this ability. Interestingly, however, evaluators rated body odors from the old-age group as less intense and less unpleasant than odors from the other two age groups.

"Elderly people have a discernible underarm odor that younger people consider to be fairly neutral and not very unpleasant," said Lundström. "This was surprising given the popular conception of old age odor as disagreeable. However, it is possible that other sources of body odors, such as skin or breath, may have different qualities."
-end-
Citation: Mitro S, Gordon AR, Olsson MJ, Lundstrom JN (2012) The Smell of Age: Perception and Discrimination of Body Odors of Different Ages. PLoS ONE 7(5): e38110. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0038110

Financial Disclosure: This work was supported in part by the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders - NIDCD (R03DC009869) and the Swedish Research Council - VR (2008-20712). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. No additional external funding received for this study.

Competing Interest Statement: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

PLEASE LINK TO THE SCIENTIFIC ARTICLE IN ONLINE VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT (URL goes live after the embargo ends):

http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0038110

Disclaimer: This press release refers to upcoming articles in PLoS ONE. The releases have been provided by the article authors and/or journal staff. Any opinions expressed in these are the personal views of the contributors, and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of PLoS. PLoS expressly disclaims any and all warranties and liability in connection with the information found in the release and article and your use of such information.

About PLoS ONE

PLoS ONE is the first journal of primary research from all areas of science to employ a combination of peer review and post-publication rating and commenting, to maximize the impact of every report it publishes. PLoS ONE is published by the Public Library of Science (PLoS), the open-access publisher whose goal is to make the world's scientific and medical literature a public resource.

All works published in PLoS ONE are Open Access. Everything is immediately available--to read, download, redistribute, include in databases and otherwise use--without cost to anyone, anywhere, subject only to the condition that the original authors and source are properly attributed. For more information about PLoS ONE relevant to journalists, bloggers and press officers, including details of our press release process and our embargo policy, see the everyONE blog at http://everyone.plos.org/media.

PLOS

Related Odors Articles from Brightsurf:

Odors as navigational cues for pigeons
Volatile organic compounds identified that can be used for olfactory navigation by homing pigeons.

Study looks at encoding the odor of cigarette smoke
A recent publication in the Journal of Neuroscience by a group of researchers at the University of Kentucky looks at Encoding the Odor of Cigarette Smoke.

Nose's response to odors more than just a simple sum of parts
Based on highly sensitive recordings of neuron activity in the noses of mice, researchers from Kyushu University have found that olfactory sensory neurons can exhibit suppression or enhancement of response when odors are mixed, overturning a long-standing view that the response is a simple sum with more complex processing only happening at later stages.

Air pollution renders flower odors unattractive to moths
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, and the University of Virginia, USA, showed that tobacco hawkmoths lost attraction to the scent of their preferred flowers when that scent had been altered by ozone.

Constructing odor objects in the brain
A research team at RIKEN in Japan found how odors can be generalized into categories by combining brain imaging and models of brain activity.

Optogenetic odors reveal the logic of olfactory perception
Using optogenetic control, researchers have created an electrical signature that is perceived as an odor in the brain's smell-processing center, the olfactory bulb, even though the odor does not exist.

How to tune out common odors and focus on important ones
Quantitative biologists at CSHL have figured out how a fly brain learns to ignore overwhelmingly prevalent, mundane odors to focus on more important ones.

Bird bacteria is key to communication and mating
Birds use odor to identify other birds, and researchers at Michigan State University have shown that if the bacteria that produce the odor is altered, it could negatively impact a bird's ability to communicate with other birds or find a mate.

New insights into how the brain perceives and processes odors
New research makes advances in understanding how smells are perceived and represented in the brain.

Analyses of newborn babies' head odors suggest importance in facilitating bonding
A team led by Kobe University Professor Mamiko Ozaki has become the first to identify the chemical makeup of the odors produced by newborn babies' heads.

Read More: Odors News and Odors Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.