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A cross-cultural study on the attitude towards personal odors

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Human axillary odor was used in testing the ability of male and female subjects to distinguish between gender and individuals. The subjects also gave a qualitative evaluation of the odors. The tests were carried out in Japan, Italy, and Germany. Of all three cultures, 80% of the participants could significantly distinguish among the odor of individuals; 50% could identify the person correctly to whom the recognized odor belonged. Discrimination between male and female odor was significantly shown by 20% of Italian, 30% of German, and 60% of Japanese subjects. The qualitative evaluation of male and female odor was the same in the three cultures: male odor was classified more unpleasant and less pleasant than female odor. Men classified their own odor more unpleasant than women did with their own. A cultural difference was found concerning partner's odor: though men classified it alike (predominantly pleasant), women differed. Japanese and Italian women classified their partner's odor predominantly unpleasant, German women predominantly pleasant. In general the Japanese subjects classified the odors less often pleasant than the Italian and German subjects did.

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Schleidt, M., Hold, B. & Attili, G. A cross-cultural study on the attitude towards personal odors. J Chem Ecol 7, 19–31 (1981). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00988632

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Key words

  • Axillary odor
  • nonverbal communication
  • human body odor