Raise your hand if you’ve ever smelled your boyfriend’s favorite t-shirt because it’s got his signature cologne and scent on it. The same thing goes for the pillow that he uses when he stays over at your place. Don’t worry, we all do it—aow there’s some actual research to back up the peaceful, stress-free feeling you get when you do it.
A study from researchers at the University of British Columbia found that smelling your partner’s shirt will literally de-stress you. Ninety-six straight couples participated in the study, which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and males were the focus. Each guy was told to put on a t-shirt and not take it off for an entire day. They couldn’t wear cologne or anything that would make them smell differently, which meant that they couldn’t smoke or eat anything particularly smelly either (which their girlfriends probably appreciated). Then the researchers took the t-shirts that they’d worn and froze them to hold the scent in.
Smells and stress haven’t been studied before. As the study authors wrote in the introduction, “The scent of another person can activate memories, trigger emotions, and spark romantic attraction; however, almost nothing is known about whether and how human scents influence responses to stress.” It definitely seems reasonable that certain smells would either stress you out or help you chill out. That must be why certain yoga teachers use scented lotions when giving massages at the end of classes, or why a smell can make you nostalgic and happy or bring up a bad memory. Think your mom’s famous chocolate chip cookies vs. that weird fresh paint smell that every high school gym seems to have—see what I mean?
The women, all of whom were in relationships with one of the men in the study, were put to the test. Each girlfriend was given three shirts to smell: something that was clean and new (meaning that no one had put it on), a male stranger’s shirt, and the shirt that their boyfriend had worn for the 24-hour period.
The female participants’ stress levels were measured a few different ways. What’s more stressful than an interview for a job or a math test? Everyone would probably agree that these are both pretty anxiety-inducing, so it’s no wonder that the researchers decided to ask each female participant to do both of those things after smelling their boyfriend’s shirt. Their cortisol (AKA the stress hormone) levels were also tested via their saliva.
Their stress went down when smelling their partners’ shirt. Basically, when the women smelled the shirt that they boyfriend had worn for 24 hours, their stress levels decreased. As Time.com reported, “Those who were able to recognize their partner’s scent also had lower cortisol levels than other women in the study, suggesting that the stress-relieving benefits may be greatest when a person is aware of what they’re sniffing.” That’s an interesting thought, right? If you smelled your BF’s fave hoodie but didn’t know that it was his, maybe you wouldn’t even notice anything, but the fact that you know that it’s his and you love him and all that jazz makes all the difference.
The findings make total sense. This totally explains why you love wearing your boyfriend’s clothes and why you like being around his stuff. You might not even realize that you’re reacting to the way that he smells, but thanks to this study, now you know that’s totally the case.
Your partner doesn’t have to be around for you to reap the benefits. Another part of the study? The fact that even if your boyfriend isn’t around, you can still smell something that he’s worn or used and feel chilled out. That’s great news if he’s away and you’re seriously missing him or if you have to be apart for another reason. It’s also good news even if you’re having a rough day and just need to feel better ASAP. It definitely can’t hurt. Plus it’s totally and completely free, which is always a bonus. If your boyfriend catches you smelling his clothing and asks what you’re doing, just tell him that you love how he smells. Chances are, he’ll love hearing that.
It’s possible that men feel the same way about how women smell. Since the study focused on a t-shirt worn by a guy, it’s unclear if it would have worked the same way if the women were wearing the shirts. Marlise Hofer, one of the study authors, who studies psychology at UBC, told Time.com, “I know I’ve personally seen men smelling the hair of their partner when they’re standing behind them, so maybe they just have slightly different behaviors that are accomplishing basically the same thing.” Maybe that’s the next part of this study: whether guys can smell their girlfriend’s hair and lower their stress levels at the same time.
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