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Stress Stinks: Anxious Women Smell Incompetent and Untrustworthy

Update Date: Oct 09, 2013 06:16 PM EDT
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Stress really does stink, according to scientists. 

A new study reveals that the smell of stress sweat can significantly alter how women are perceived by other people.

Researchers said that latest findings suggest that odor from stress-related sweat specifically impacts social judgments of one's confidence, trustworthiness and competence.

"Stress-induced sweat, the worst smelling of the three causes of sweat, can occur unexpectedly at any point in the day, often becoming a vicious cycle. Research demonstrates there are three causes of sweat: physical exertion, environmental heat and stress. Sweat caused by physical activity (internal thermal stress) and environmental heat (external thermal stress) are produced by secretions from the eccrine sweat gland, while stress (emotional) sweat is produced by secretions from the eccrine and apocrine gland. And as this sweat mixes with bacteria on our skin, the result is a distinguishably foul odor," Dr. Susan Biehle-Hulette, Procter & Gamble and Secret brand senior scientist for product development, said in a news release.

The latest study involved 44 female donors who provided three types of axillary odor samples including; exercise sweat, stress sweat (untreated) and stress sweat (treated with Secret Clinical StrengthTM).

Afterwards, 120 male and female raters were presented with samples of each type of sweat. The raters were asked to watch videos of women performing everyday activities and to rate how stressed each women appeared.

The findings revealed that women evaluated in the presence of untreated stress sweat were perceived as "stressed" by all raters and women evaluated in the presence on treated stress sweat were rated as significantly more confident, trustworthy and competent.

"Researchers have studied the impact of stress sweat on emotional states and brain activity, but we have not previously evaluated how it influences social perception," lead researcher Pamela Dalton, PhD. MPH, member of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, said in a statement. "For the first time, we have found that stress sweat odor impacts overall judgments of perceived confidence, trustworthiness and competence."

The findings are published in the journal PLOS One.

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