On the communicative function of body odors: A theoretical integration and review

J.H.B. de Groot, M.A.M. Smeets, G.R. Semin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Humans use multiple senses to navigate the social world, and the sense of smell is arguably the most underestimated one. An intriguing aspect of the sense of smell is its social communicative function. Research has shown that human odors convey information about a range of states (e.g., emotions, sickness) and traits (e.g., individuality, gender). Yet, what underlies the communicability of these states and traits via smell? We fill this explanatory gap with a framework that highlights the dynamic and flexible aspects of human olfactory communication. In particular, we explain how chemical profiles, associative learning (i.e., the systematic co-occurrence of chemical profiles with state- or trait-related information), and top-down contextual influences could interact to shape human odor perception. Our model not only helps to integrate past research on human olfactory communication but it also opens new avenues for future research on this fascinating, yet to date poorly understood, field.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)306– 324
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • olfaction
  • communication
  • pheromones
  • associative learning
  • context


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