Odor tolerance has been proven to be higher when it comes to people from the same group, than when it comes to outsiders, in a newly released study.
The scientific paper was featured in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, on Monday, February 22. The findings were based on a series of experiments carried out by British experts at St. Andrew University and Sussex University.
In the first trial, a group of 45 females attending classes at Sussex University were required to sniff a shirt drenched in perspiration, which had allegedly been worn by a student from Brighton University, considered to be their own alma mater’s main rival.
In some of the cases, researchers explained to the volunteers that the purpose was to assess the ability that students in general have, when it comes to detecting pheromones.
In another scenario, participants were told that the aim was to evaluate the sensibility of Sussex students to such chemicals secreted by armpit sweat glands.
A third group of subjects was led to believe that individual skill with regard to identifying pheromones was being investigated, without focusing on a particular group or affiliation.
In all the three situations, volunteers were then asked to specify how foul and repugnant they believed the odor had been, grading it on a scale of one to seven.
Another experiment had similar requirements, but it involved another T-shirt, which had ostensibly been worn by a research assistant from Sussex University.
It was discovered that when study participants thought that they were getting a whiff of clothes pertaining to a person from their own academic institution, they had a much higher odor tolerance, finding the perspiration much less putrid and unpleasant.
On the contrary, when they were duped into believing that the apparel had belonged to an individual from a rival school, they were much more sensitive to the reeking smell, assessing it as much more unbearable and noisome.
When volunteers were asked to evaluate the scent without taking into account a specific group, they were similarly inclined to be disgusted by the shirt they had just sniffed.
In a separate trial, conducted at St. Andrew University, a mixed group of 90 students was given the task to smell 3 separate shirts: one with their institution’s logo, another one bearing the logo of Dundee University (its main nemesis), and a third one having no logo whatsoever.
The clothes had actually been worn by the very same person, but subjects had no idea about this. This time, instead of being surveyed through a questionnaire, the participants had their reactions monitored by researchers.
More precisely, experts kept track of how fast each individual walked towards a soap dispenser after handling the shirt, and how much hand sanitizer was used afterwards.
It was discovered that when students had thought the clothes had belonged to a person from their group, they tended to move more slowly, and to employ less soap while washing their hands.
In contrast, after touching apparel which purportedly belonged to someone from a rival institution, they showed much higher levels of repulsion and distaste, hurrying off to the dispenser and using generous amounts of hand sanitizer.
As explained by Steve Reicher, study lead author and professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews, the findings clearly reveal that odor tolerance tends to depend on whether the source of the smell is a member of the in-group, or an outsider.
Basically, if an unpleasant scent belongs to a person that one is familiar or intimate with, it’s much more likely to be ignored or to be considered bearable.
If it was produced by a person outside one’s social circle, there’s a much higher probability that it will be treated more harshly and provoke plenty of criticism or disgust.
This variable odor tolerance is probably linked to the fact that members of the same group are required to collaborate easily and tolerate one another, which makes them tone down their negative reactions and become more accepting and amiable, showing obvious favoritism towards their peers.
Group dynamics also explains why people are usually more hostile to those they don’t identify with, exhibiting a much lower odor tolerance, alongside other patterns of discrimination and derogation.
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