More Data, Please: Machine Learning to Advance the Multidisciplinary Science of Human Sociochemistry

Jasper H B de Groot, Ilja Croijmans, Monique A M Smeets

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Communication constitutes the core of human life. A large portion of our everyday social interactions is non-verbal. Of the sensory modalities we use for non-verbal communication, olfaction (i.e., the sense of smell) is often considered the most enigmatic medium. Outside of our awareness, smells provide information about our identity, emotions, gender, mate compatibility, illness, and potentially more. Yet, body odors are astonishingly complex, with their composition being influenced by various factors. Is there a chemical basis of olfactory communication? Can we identify molecules predictive of psychological states and traits? We propose that answering these questions requires integrating two disciplines: psychology and chemistry. This new field, coined sociochemistry, faces new challenges emerging from the sheer amount of factors causing variability in chemical composition of body odorants on the one hand (e.g., diet, hygiene, skin bacteria, hormones, genes), and variability in psychological states and traits on the other (e.g., genes, culture, hormones, internal state, context). In past research, the reality of these high-dimensional data has been reduced in an attempt to isolate unidimensional factors in small, homogenous samples under tightly controlled settings. Here, we propose big data approaches to establish novel links between chemical and psychological data on a large scale from heterogeneous samples in ecologically valid settings. This approach would increase our grip on the way chemical signals non-verbally and subconsciously affect our social lives across contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number581701
Number of pages9
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


  • sense of smell
  • machine learning
  • chemosignals
  • non-verbal communication
  • social and personalitypsychology


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