Sniffing body odor from sweat could reduce social anxiety, new research suggests

Smelling other people’s sweat might not seem like a desirable activity, yet a new study from Sweden suggests that exposure to body odor could be an alternative therapy for social anxiety.

The study’s findings were presented at the European Congress of Psychiatry, held from Aug. 25-Aug. 28 in Paris.

Elisa Vigna, the lead researcher from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, said at the conference that when people are in a certain "state of mind" and then sweat, their perspiration includes certain molecules — or "chemo-signals" — that convey their "emotional state" and elicit "corresponding responses" in those who smell it.

"The results of our preliminary study show that combining these chemo-signals with mindfulness therapy seems to produce better results in treating social anxiety than can be achieved by mindfulness therapy alone," Vigna also noted during the presentation in Paris.

Fox News Digital reached out to the lead study author for original comment.

The researchers collected sweat from volunteers who watched clips from movies to induce emotions. 

Next, 48 women who were experiencing social anxiety were exposed to different odors — some of which included the sweat samples — along with mindfulness therapy.

"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 explained at the conference.

Specifically, those who engaged in mindfulness therapy along with exposure to body odors had about 39% lower anxiety, compared to a 17% reduction in the participants who only had mindfulness therapy.

Sweat produced with emotion has anxiety-reducing effect

Vigna said the research team was surprised to find that it didn’t matter which emotions the people experienced while producing the sweat.

"Sweat produced while someone was happy had the same effect as someone who had been scared by a movie clip," she said.

"So there may be something about human chemo-signals in sweat generally that affects the response to treatment."

Dr. Marc Siegel, clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and a Fox News medical contributor, told Fox News Digital that "smells trigger the limbic system of the brain, which either triggers strong emotions or calms you, depending on the scent. It may also trigger calming memories." 

"I suspect it is the salty fragrance of armpit odor that elicits the response — connecting to a primitive emotion," he added.

More research is needed

The researchers plan to do additional study to confirm these findings. 

They're working to determine which molecules in human sweat reduce anxiety levels.


Social anxiety disorder is "characterized by persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others," according to the National Institute of Mental Health.


Fifteen million adults in the U.S. have social anxiety disorder, per Mental Health America, a nonprofit group based in Alexandria, Virginia.