Like many animals, humans produce a myriad of scents from sweating, bacteria, possibly pheromones, etc. Many of these scents are used throughout the animal kingdom for mate choice, recognition of individuals, or signifying presence or territory.

I know that humans subconsciously react to some scent cues (see here, here, or here for examples), but it seems many humans find natural human scent to, well, smell. Interestingly, this article suggests that humans' smell is worse than that of other animals.

My question is: if these scents hold so much information, how/why did humans develop an aversion to the natural scent of other humans?

Further, when did this occur? -- recently or long ago in human culture? I know Egyptians made perfumes thousands of years ago, so this is not a fully recent trend. Perhaps someone could comment on the ubiquitousness of this aversion across modern cultures as well.


closed as primarily opinion-based by kmm, AliceD, rg255, AMR, anongoodnurse Feb 3 '16 at 20:33

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Are Americans REALLY bothered by body odor more than other people, or do we just think about it more because our corporate culture constantly advertises odor-killing products? Odor can convey a number of messages, including negative. In fact, a person's body can emit more than one type of odor and could therefore send out mixed messages. It's possible that people were offended by certain odors thousands of years ago, but there simply wasn't anything they could do about them. Another possibility is that our modern lifestyle somehow makes people smellier. Just a few guesses. $\endgroup$ – David Blomstrom Feb 3 '16 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ I don't believe this question is opinion based. It is fairly well known and demonstrated in my links (and countless other sources) that people find the body odor of others repugnant at times. The question asks for a historical /evolutionary explanation of why that is. That falls well in the range of accepted questions on this SE site. I feel those that voted to close nitpicked details in my text instead of focusing on the actual question, which is valid here. $\endgroup$ – theforestecologist Mar 3 '16 at 14:44
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    $\begingroup$ I think that the "humans produce pheromones" part is problematic, you might want to remove that. To my knowledge no human pheromone (a specific molecule) has ever been identified, although some behavioral studies have suggested that there is information in smell. But this is really not so relevant to the question in the title anyway, so you could take out this part. Just the question of why our "natural" odor is repugnant to us is interesting in itself, regardless of what "information" it might carry, $\endgroup$ – Roland Mar 3 '16 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Roland I've modified this portion. I've now included the phrase "possibly pheromones" and included a link to a TED talk by one of the world's experts on the subject, Tristram Wyatt, who gives a good summary of the pheromone subject (which I believe is pertinent to this question). Please vote to reopen if you see no additional issues with this question. $\endgroup$ – theforestecologist Mar 3 '16 at 16:14
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    $\begingroup$ I think it's not human smell per se, just sweat. Probably because of association with bad hygiene and therefore risk of infection as you mention yourself - disgust as part of the behavioural immune system. I'd guess we gave up on smell in favour of social cognition and language, which we use for some social functions for which other animals use smells. So it wouldn't surprise that we find a different use for smell. $\endgroup$ – Armatus Nov 17 '18 at 20:51