Chemosensory Perception

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 55-63

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Processing of Body Odor Signals by the Human Brain

  • Bettina M. PauseAffiliated withDepartment of Experimental Psychology, University of Duesseldorf Email author 


Brain development in mammals has been proposed to be promoted by successful adaptations to the social complexity as well as to the social and non-social chemical environment. Therefore, the communication via chemosensory signals might have been and might still be a phylogenetically ancient communication channel transmitting evolutionary significant information. In humans, the neuronal underpinnings of the processing of social chemosignals have been investigated in relation to kin recognition, mate choice, the reproductive state and emotional contagion. These studies reveal that human chemosignals are probably not processed within olfactory brain areas but through neuronal relays responsible for the processing of social information. It is concluded that the processing of human social chemosignals resembles the processing of social signals originating from other modalities, except that human social chemosignals are usually communicated without the allocation of attentional resources, that is below the threshold of consciousness. Deviances in the processing of human social chemosignals might be related to the development and maintenance of mental disorders.


Body odor Brain imaging Chemosensory communication Emotional contagion Social brain