Yes, Your Date Can Smell Your Fear

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

fear (Dee Teal/flickr)

If you've ever worried that an animal could smell your fear, you could be right. You might still be right even if that animal was a fellow human, like your boss or your date.

According to New York Times science columnist Natalie Angier, animals can smell fear in each other. But that doesn't mean they react the way we'd think. The Eurasian roller, a small bird found in Spain, was found to stay away from its nest upon smelling its terrified young's vomit. Lab rats placed downwind of their murine companions imitated any rat they could smell being electrically shocked. And minnows, despite not having noses, know to flee when they sense the pheromones emitted by the skin of an injured compatriot.

Humans aren't immune, either. Test subjects, upon sniffing swabs placed under the armpits of movie-goers, could immediately tell who had seen the scarier film. They labelled the scent as not only stronger, but more "aggressive."

So next time your heart skips a beat at a horror movie, fear not. You can tell if your date is a fellow wimp just by taking a whiff.


Natalie Angier

Produced by:

Brad Mielke

Comments [3]

Morty Sklar from Jackson Heights, Queens, N.Y.C.

I'm going to place my poem, "The Smell Of Life," here. It's from my book, The Smell Of Life: Poems 1969 to 2005, and this title poem has fear in it, but fear mixed with other emotions...but why explain a poem? Here 'tis:
(By the way, I wrote it ten years after my last admission for heroin detox to Manhattan General Hospital in New York City in 1966--which led to what became known as Phoenix House.)


Rubbing alcohol
and a breeze from an open window,
warm February day.

Rubbing alcohol
and infrared-heated beef mashed potatoes and string beans
much the same as rubbing alcohol
ham french fries and broccoli.

Later, on the way to the tv room or the gymnasium
in striped cotton robe
my breath tastes like dinner
like all the dinners.

The alcohol touches at once
tonsillectomy, Mother’s hemorrhage,
my electroshock therapy, heroin, hepatitis,
and awakens fear
but is inexplicably reassuring
like the odor of gasoline and sewage
near lower west side service stations and piers
where our family car sometimes took us
to relatives across the river,
furry arm of my mother,
aftershave of my father,
standing midstream at the prow of the ferry
a breeze across our faces.

Aug. 15 2012 09:50 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

I remember a boss who smelled of fear. I thought he was just sweating rancid pork until he lost his job...

I needed a little more out of this segment. I don't know what it was that was missing. I guess more proof that humans can detect the smell of fear off of each other... Is the smell of fear more detectable in apes?
The bird regurgitation is cute and I guess humans vomit when they are scared too.

I love that fish are in fact the chickens of the sea

Aug. 15 2012 11:27 AM
Finicky from Brooklyn

Rodents... not a species.

Aug. 15 2012 09:32 AM

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