A groundbreaking new study has found that sniffing women’s tears significantly reduces aggressive behavior in men. Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel conducted experiments exposing men to the scent of women’s tears while monitoring their brain activity.
The study, published in the journal Science, had several notable findings:
- Men exposed to the scent of women’s tears displayed 45% less aggressive behavior in laboratory tests compared to men exposed to a neutral scent.
- Brain imaging showed reduced activity in areas associated with aggression when smelling tears.
- The calming effect occurred even though the men couldn’t consciously detect the scent of tears.
“It appears that women’s tears contain chemosignals that modulate males’ aggression through unconscious processing in the brain,” said lead researcher Dr. Noam Sobel. “This is the first clear evidence of a calming behavioral and brain response to an unconsciously detected scent.”
How the Study Worked
The study involved 24 heterosexual men undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans. At random intervals, small pads below their noses released air containing a scent – either women’s tears or a neutral salt solution.
The men then took computerized behavioral tests measuring aggression. These involved simulated interactions with provocative strangers and financial decisions regarding donating money.
Researchers theorize smelling tears may trigger protective instincts in men. Over human evolution, seeing a woman crying may signal she needs aid, curtailing potential aggression.
“The findings suggest tears may convey critical chemosignals passes from women to men,” Dr. Sobel said.
While more research is needed, the study has intriguing implications. Smelling tears or similar scents could potentially help reduce domestic violence or aggression in other contexts.
“Sniffing natural chemosignals could be a promising new approach for modulating behavior,” said co-author Dr. Regina Sullivan. “However, much more work is needed before recommending applications.”
Researchers next plan to identify the specific chemicals in tears influencing the response. Further studies will also explore impacts on women and in real world settings.
Experts praised the rigorous methodology of the randomized, controlled trial. But some cautioned wider social factors also drive aggression.
“This adds valuable insight on the evolutionary biology behind emotional crying,” said Dr. Ad Vingerhoets of Tilburg University. “But learning and cultural influences play a huge role too.”
Others warned against victim blaming in cases of assault. “The onus is entirely on perpetrators to restrain violence,” stressed psychologist Dr. Martha Jenkins.
History of Tear Research
Charles Darwin first suggested emotional tears transmit visual cues to elicit caring from others. Studies since confirmed crying triggers assistance.
But Dr. Sobel’s team is the first demonstrating odor messages in tears reducing aggression. Their past research found components in women’s tears lower testosterone and arousal in men.
“Our findings build on that previous work,” Dr. Sullivan said.
The scientists next aim to isolate the specific calming chemical compounds in tears. They will also explore responses in more real world conditions with couples.
“If chemosignals in tears can modulate behavior, we want to evaluate clinical applications,” Dr. Sobel said. “Perhaps delivering these as scents could assist anger management or reduce domestic violence.”
However, the researchers emphasized results are preliminary. Further studies over the next five years are needed before translational applications.
For now, they suggest a take away is appreciating the unexpectedly sophisticated mechanisms human emotions utilize to convey subtler messages below conscious awareness.
“Emotional tearing clearly serves an important purpose in social communication between the sexes,” Dr. Sullivan said. “Our findings reveal just how integratedchemical, behavioral and neural processing is interpreting these delicate cues.”
|Responses to Women’s Tears
|Without Tears Exposure
|With Tears Exposure
|Aggressive behavior in tests
|Brain activity in aggression areas
|Conscious detection of tears scent
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