An experiment regarding smell made the news recently – part of a series of ever more important experiemnst that have been conducted in teh past years that shows how important the sense of smell, and the flow of molecules thru the air between people, is for our social experience and behaviors. So, first, let me point you to a post about the experimental data.

People can smell your neuroticism

Sorokowska and colleagues asked 30 men and 30 women to don white cotton t-shirts for three consecutive nights. Participants could not use fragrances, deodorants or soaps, and could not smoke or drink or eat odorous foods during the study. Participants also took a personality test.

Shirts from the “odor donors” were collected and rated by 100 men and 100 women. Raters were asked to smell the shirts (placed in non-transparent plastic bags) and evaluate five personality traits of the donors, on a scale of one to 10. Each rater assessed six shirts, and each shirt was assessed by 20 raters.

The judges’ ratings matched up with the self-assessments of the donors for three personality traits: extroversion (the tendency to be outgoing and sociable) neuroticism (the tendency to feel anxious and moody) and dominance (the urge to be a leader).

The matches were far from perfect. But the raters predicted the donor’s level of extroversion and neuroticism through smell about as accurately as participants in a different study predicted personality traits based on a video depicting a person’s behavior, Sorokowska said.

Judgments of dominance were most accurate in the case where an individual rater was assessing the odor of someone who was the opposite sex, suggesting such judgments are especially important when it comes to choosing a mate, the researchers said.

Extroversion, neuroticism and dominance are all traits that may, to some extent, be expressed physiologically, including through our emotions.

For instance, people who are neurotic may sweat more when they experience stress, which would modify the bacteria in their underarms and make them smell different, the researchers said.

Personality traits may also be linked with the secretion of hormones that could alter a persons’ scent. People who are high in dominance may have higher levels of testosterone, which in turn may modify their sweat glands, the researchers said.

The reason I mention this experiment is to begin talking about a topic I have used as one of my basic models for many years, and that is:

Many of the unusual and interesting physiological and emotional effects of enlightenment and self-sevelopment training are caused in part or entirely by the biochemical effects of molecules, “scents”, passing back and forth between people thru the air, and being absorbed by the skin, nose, mouth, eyes, and other chemically sensitive parts of the body.

That’s right – a lot of the most interesting things that happen with this brain.mind or “spirituality” stuff is chemistry. Especially likely to be chemical effects in part or whole are (1) all or most “energy” effects (that is, feelings of ‘energy’ in the body, or however you want to try to describe the whole class of effects people usually describe as feelings of energy, tingling, light, pressure, excitement or deadening, or what have you), and (2) all or most “group effects”, in which moods or feelings or waves of physical synchrony or coincidence are experienced as “flowing” thru a group that is either doing self-development work or is in some other way stimulated.

Based on my personal observations, there are other areas where we probably are seeing some kind of chemical effect, that I will mention at some future time.

Some of the clues (indicators) that we are looking at something that is in all or part a flow of molecules from human to human are (1) the speed of propagation (which is slow, comparitively), (2) the strong physiological reactions and sensations involved, essenrtially similar to mind altering drugs, or to known biochemical effects like those of adrenalin, oxytocin, theobromine, and hormones such as testosterone and estrogen.

I don’t have convincing evidence to support this claim, but based on my personal observations, a person with the right training can “project” certain kinds of chemical cues, and stimulate sensations and emotions in nearby people.

If any of this is true, that is, if scent cues and emitted molecules play as large a part in non-ordinary brain/mind and “spiritual” experiences as I am claiming, we should be able to design tests and experiments to measure this effect. The technology to accurately sample and measure hormones and emitted molecules (hormones, neurohormones, possibly neurotransmitters, and other bio-active molecules known and not-yet-known) between and around people doesn’t currently exist, but may in a few decades.

I propose this as a probably very fertile, and possibly extremely financially valuable, area of research.