Happiness: Chemicals in Sweat May Convey Positive Emotion

According to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, humans have the ability to convey positive emotions such as happiness through the smell of their sweat. Our bodies produce chemical compounds or chemosignals, when we are happy. These signals are detectable in the smell of our sweat.


You might have heard that negative emotions such as fear and disgust can be communicated through the chemical composition and smell of sweat, but it was previously unknown whether the same applied to positive emotions.

The study sought to determine whether this ‘emotional chemosignaling’ worked with positive emotions as well as negative ones. Researcher Semin and colleagues examined whether sweat taken from people in a happy state would influence the behavior, perception, and emotional state of people exposed to the sweat. The study was done in two parts: first, 12 males were shown videos that triggered fear (a negative emotion) or happiness (a positive emotion). Their sweat samples were collected and preserved. Thirty-six women were then exposed individually to either the ‘fear’ sweat or the ‘happy sweat’. The study indicates “facial expression data revealed that women who were exposed to “fear sweat” showed greater activity in the medial frontalis muscle, a common feature of fear expressions. And women who were exposed to ‘happy sweat’ showed more facial muscle activity indicative of a Duchenne smile, a common component of happiness expressions.

Through this research it has also been shown that there is a “behavioral synchronization” between the sender (the sweat donor) and receiver (the sweat smeller). When the second group of subjects in the experiment were exposed to ‘happy sweat’, they showed “a more global focus in perceptual processing tasks, in line with previous research showing that participants induced to experience positive mood tended to show more global processing styles.”

What this study shows is that it is possible that we communicate our positive and negative emotional states via distinct chemosignals, such that the receiver understands and sometimes imitates the sender’s emotional state.

“Our study shows that being exposed to sweat produced under happiness induces a simulacrum of happiness in receivers, and induces a contagion of the emotional state,” explains psychological scientist Gün Semin of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, senior researcher on the study. “This suggests that somebody who is happy will infuse others in their vicinity with happiness. In a way, happiness sweat is somewhat like smiling — it is infectious.”

“This is another step in our general model on the communicative function of human sweat, and we are continuing to refine it to understand the neurological effects that human sweat has on recipients of these chemical compounds,” senior researcher Semin claims. He is excited about the relevance and implications that this study will have. Since emotion and sweat are both natural features of what it means to be a human, the fact that these can be communicated chemically is highly interesting. He believes that this study will be very helpful to the “odor industry”, which can apply this information practically.

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