I Love You Sweatheart

We all know that odors can generate powerful emotions. The odor, aroma or scent of bread baking, a smoker's pipe, lavender, a lover's perfume, vomit or a new car or bookstore will certainly elicit some reaction.

Take sweat. Probably not high on the popular scents list. But researchers have found (yes, someone did this as part of their work) that it can carry information about the emotions of the sweat producer and the person who get a whiff of someone else's sweat.

Surely, you have heard the expression "You could smell his fear."

The poet Thomas Lux has a poem about a man who mistakenly write the message "I Love You Sweatheart" to his love. The poem starts like this:

A man risked his life to write the words.
A man hung upside down (an idiot friend
holding his legs?) with spray paint
to write the words on a girder fifty feet above
a highway. And his beloved,
the next morning driving to work…?

It turns out that his sweat might actually have carried his message as well.

Human sweat seems to contain chemicals, “chemosignals”, that can carry information about emotional states. Researchers used the sweat of a dozen men that they collected after showing them movie clips to create an emotion. I love these movie choices: for happy sweat one clip used was the "Bare Necessities” scene from The Jungle Book; fearful sweat from clips of Schindler’s List and Scream 2; neutral "control" sweat from watching TV weather forecasts (probably not using sexy women weather forecasters).

Then they asked female subjects to smell the sweat samples, and measured electrical impulses produced by facial muscles in order to track the women’s facial expressions.

"Happy sweat” elicited happier expressions (including smiles). "Neutral" was, well, neutral. "Fearful sweat" elicited a fearful expression).

The article I read about this suggested that "to get a boost of happiness, just find the happiest person in the room and take a whiff!"

How can we generate "love sweat?"

Tom Lux ends his poem:

A man risked his life to write the words.
Love is like this at the bone, we hope, love
is like this, Sweetheart, all sore and dumb
and dangerous, ignited, blessed - always,
regardless, no exceptions,
always in blazing matters like these: blessed.

On a related olfactory note was an article about similar research to test ut the belief that old people have a particular scent. I know that when I would go to my grandparents' house an aroma would hit my nose as soon as I entered. But I have always thought this was combination of grandma's cooking, grandpa's pipe tobacco and the old furnishings. But maybe it was also my grandparents.

This study had young participants smell the body odors of young, middle-aged, and old people. They asked participants to try to distinguish between them. The old-people odors were perceived as “less intense and less unpleasant” than the young- and middle-age body odors. That goes against the "old people smell" stereotype. But the participants also had an easier time identifying the old-person odors compared to the other two categories. The old ones were more distinct.

The researchers surmised that “In everyday life, the old age odor is experienced in the context of an old individual being present. Odor valence ratings are highly dependent in which on the context they are experienced... it is likely that the body odors originating from the old individuals would have been rated as more negative if participants were aware of their true origin. This experiment suggests that, akin to other animals, humans are able to discriminate age based on body odor alone and that this effect is mediated mainly by body odors emitted by individuals of old age.”

Well, there is a case of age discrimination!

Here is Thomas Lux reading that poem. I love his comment on the poem after he reads.

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