Ditching deodorant won’t make you popular, but according to a new study from university KU Leuven in Belgium, it might make people nicer to you. Nicer because they pity you, and probably want to get away from you, but still: nicer. Researchers say that’s because “bad body odor is commonly associated with vulnerability, which triggers feelings of concern.” In other words, people will for sure look down on the smellier you, but they may also give you stuff.
The scientists put 36 participants into two groups: half sniffed a shirt doused in “human sweat, beer, and sprayed with foul smells,” while the other half were assigned “more neutral-smelling” T-shirts. Participants, who were told to “imagine the item belonged to someone they worked with,” generally showed more pity toward the imaginary coworkers who smelled worse.
That translates to real-life “prosocial behavior.” In a second experiment, researchers had 62 subjects do two mazes, the first alone, and the second with a partner wearing either a beer-sweat shirt or one of the neutral-smelling Ts. After both mazes, the subjects were given 11 chances to win movie tickets, which they could divvy up between themselves and their partners as they saw fit. The smellier the partner, the more credits they got.
So while “pitiable” may not be what most of us are going for — “I find [you] pathetic” (to borrow the language of the study) is not, like, the most encouraging thing you could say about a person — it seems like smelling bad isn’t necessarily as socially ruinous as previously thought. People will give you movie tickets! They probably won’t go with you, but they will totally give you movie tickets.
Image via Veer