The smell of other people’s sweat can help treat social anxiety

The anxiety or social phobia It is a psychological problem that is characterized by excessive concern when the affected person is in situations in which they have to socialize with other people, which can interfere with their social or work relationships, when going shopping, or in their leisure activities. or your vacations every time you have to come into contact with others.

It is an unjustified and pathological fear of feeling judged by people and an inability to function in public that can have important consequences for the sufferer, forcing them to isolate themselves, but a team of scientists has discovered a possible and curious solution that could contribute to the treatment of social phobia and other mental health problems.

These researchers have shown, specifically, that when patients with social anxiety underwent mindfulness therapy while they were exposed to body odors extracted from sweat of the armpits of a group of volunteers their social anxiety decreased. The results of this experiment have been presented in Paris at the European Congress of Psychiatry.

“People who did a mindfulness therapy session along with exposure to human body odors showed about a 39% reduction in anxiety scores”

“Our mental state causes us to produce molecules (or chemical signals) in sweat that communicate our emotional state and produce corresponding responses in receptors. The results of our preliminary study show that the combination of these chemosignals with mindfulness therapy appears to produce better results in the treatment of social anxiety than can be achieved with mindfulness therapy alone.” Ms. Elisa Vigna, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and principal investigator.

Odor exposure and mindfulness therapy against social phobia

The sweat samples used in the study were obtained while the volunteers watched short fragments of films that had been selected to provoke emotional states, such as fear or happiness, with the aim of testing whether certain emotions had different effects on treatment. Next, the researchers recruited 48 women aged 15 to 35 who suffered from social anxiety and divided them into three groups. For two days, all of them received mindfulness therapy to treat their social anxiety, and each group was exposed to a different odor that came from sweat samples from people who had watched different types of video clips, while a group of control was exposed to clean air.

“We found that women in the group exposed to sweat from people who had been watching funny or scary movies responded better to mindfulness therapy than those who had not been exposed. We were a bit surprised to discover that the emotional state of the person producing the sweat did not influence treatment results: sweat produced while someone was happy had the same effect as sweat produced by someone being frightened by a movie clip. Therefore, there may be something in the ‘human chemotherapy signals’ in the sweat that affects the response to treatment”, explained Elisa Vigna.

The researcher believes that it is possible that being exposed to the presence of another person has this effect, but that this is something they need to confirm, and that is why they are now testing it in a similar study in which they have also included the sweat they have gotten from people while watching documentaries that were emotionally neutral. “This should allow us to determine whether any potential benefit from therapy stems from the unconscious perception of specific emotional cues, or whether it simply has to do with the human presence, independent of emotion,” she said.

“We found that people who took a mindfulness therapy session along with exposure to human body odors showed about a 39% reduction in anxiety scores. For comparison, in the group that received only mindfulness (that is, the control group) we saw a 17% reduction in anxiety scores after one treatment session,” continues Vigna, who concludes that they are hopeful that their findings will help people with social anxiety disorder.


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