Do We Choose Our Friends by…Sniffing Them?

A recent study found that people who like each other tend to smell alike

Photo of two dogs outside sniffing each other during the day with green grass in the background
Turns out you make friends the same way your dog does.
Fouad El-Khabbaz / EyeEm

If you’ve ever had the experience of meeting someone and you just instantly vibe, it’s probably because — whether you knew it or not — you liked how they smelled. And no, I’m not talking about being attracted to a new partner’s Acqua di Giò or realizing you and your new best friend both wear the same Chanel fragrance. I’m talking about our natural animal smells, which we, not unlike dogs, apparently have a way of sniffing out in each other. According to a recent study, this subconscious sniff test plays an important role in how we bond with others and choose the people we want to hang out with.

Published last week in the journal Science Advances, the study analyzed the scent profile of friends, finding that people who hang out together tend to smell alike. In the first experiment, the researchers collected body odor samples from “click friends” — people who “clicked” right away. An analysis of those samples using something called an electronic nose revealed that people who dug each other’s vibe and became fast friends had similar smell profiles compared to a control group.

Of course, this could be because people tend to gravitate towards others who share similar lifestyles, and those lifestyle similarities (i.e., where you live, what you eat, etc.) may produce similar body odors. To rule out the influence of external lifestyle factors and prove that friends don’t just smell alike because they do the same things, scientists conducted a second experiment with strangers. This time, the researchers introduced strangers to each other, then had them rate the interaction. An analysis of the participants’ smell profiles found that people who smelled alike were more likely to report a positive interaction. Scientists were even able to accurately predict how two individuals would rate their interaction based on their smell profile 71% of the time.

So while you may not knowingly be subjecting new friends and acquaintances to a sniff test, it turns out that’s actually kind of what’s happening when we suss out someone’s deal. We may not get all up in each other’s butts like dogs do, but if you’ve ever gotten a good vibe from someone new right away, chances are you caught a whiff of something you liked.

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