They say that smiles are contagious, but recent research has stumbled upon another way of spreading the joy: Sweat. No, not “Gonna Make You Sweat,” though that song does fill my heart with joy. We’re talking actual human perspiration.
A new study published in Psychological Science looked at whether positive emotions could be emoted through chemical compounds in sweat the same way that negative emotions like fear and disgust can be.
In the experiment, researchers from Utrecht University (in the Netherlands) attached some absorbent pads (probably not with wings) to 12 male participants. The men then watched a video clip meant to provoke some type of emotion (happiness, fear, or neutral). They were also told to look at Chinese symbols and rate how pleasant or unpleasant each one was—a measure of implicit emotion.
In the second part of the study, the researchers asked 36 female participants to take a whiff of the dudes’ sweat. (The researchers only asked women to participate in the smelling portion of the study, since women tend to have a keener sense of both smell and emotional signaling.) Sure enough, the data suggested that not only did the men’s sweat change depending on the emotions they were experiencing, but the women may have been able to pick up on it.
How could they tell? The researchers analyzed the facial expressions of the women. Those who were exposed to “fear sweat” displayed facial muscle activity (or, um, made a face) associated with fear. Those exposed to “happy sweat” displayed muscle activity associated with happiness—a slight smile. The samples taken from the implicit emotion study, however, did not evoke any response.
"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," said Gün Semin, lead researcher and professor of social and organizational psychology, in a statement.
”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."
From now on, anytime someone asks me how I’m doing, I’m going to hold up my arm, lean in, and say, “You tell me.”