People frequently complain about that “old person smell.” Mothers often delight in that unique “baby smell.” And sometimes young 20-something guys smell kind of gross (just kidding! Sort of).
But does any of that have a basis in science?
Yes, yes it does. This post will describe the smelly, somewhat weird, yet informative study that proves that your odor might just give away your age (sorry, ladies).
First, researchers at the Monell Center divided participants of the study into three age groups: young (20-30 years old), middle-age (45-55), and old-age (75-95). Each group contained 12-16 individuals.
So this is where it gets weird. Each of the participants slept for five nights in a row with some kind of armpit pads that were later divided into four parts and put into jars by the researchers. Five nights sleeping with armpit pads.
The scientists almost certainly did not use a dagger to cut up the armpit pads, but just go with me here.
Once the armpit pad pieces were placed in glass jars, 41 “young people” (20-30 years old) were given two jars in 9 different combinations and asked to indicate the smell that came from the older person. They also rated the intensity and pleasantness of the odor, and guessed the donor’s age.
And these 20-30 year-old folks were actually able to tell the three different donor age groups apart by smell. In fact, the old people’s odors were the ones that drove the ability to differentiate the ages, and old-people smell was considered less intense and less unpleasant than those of the other groups! Take THAT old-people-smell stigma!
Later on, researchers will try to figure out what molecules in our armpit smells make the odors different, and how our brain is able to figure out those differences. But for now, this is really kind of
Mitro, S., Gordon, A., Olsson, M., & Lundström, J. (2012). The Smell of Age: Perception and Discrimination of Body Odors of Different Ages PLoS ONE, 7 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038110