There Really Is An Old Person Smell

By PLANSPONSOR staff | June 01, 2012

June 1, 2012 ( - Researchers have determined that there really is an “old person smell” -- and a young person smell and a middle-aged person smell -- according to a study published by PLoS ONE.

However, our paranoia that we turn into pungent, musty moth balls as we age turns out to be completely wrong. Older people have less intense -- and more pleasant -- scents than their younger counterparts, the new research indicates, according to MSNBC.  

Scientists have long known that our bodies give off scents that contain a variety of chemicals and that those chemicals can convey a lot of information, but they didn’t know whether body odor changed with age in an easily detectable way.  

To see if people could accurately identify a person’s age through smell, study co-author Johan Lundstrom, an assistant professor at the Monell Chemical Senses Center and at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, and his colleagues asked 41 volunteers to wear a special T-shirt to bed for five nights, after bathing and washing their hair with unscented products. Each of the unscented shirts contained underarm pads which, by the end of five days, were steeped in the volunteer’s body odor.  

Pieces of the pads were then dropped into glass jars, which were grouped by age: Some jars contained scents of 20- to 30-year-olds, some the scents of 45- to 55-year-olds, and some the scents of 75- to 95-year-olds.  

The researchers then rounded up another 41 volunteers and had them sniff the jars. The volunteers were then asked to guess the age group associated with the scent in each jar and to rate the intensity of each scent and its pleasantness.  

The news report said the volunteers were successful at figuring out the ages -- better than would be predicted by chance. They were even more accurate when they were simply asked to group together all the jars that smelled like old people, meaning they could detect the old person smell the best.  

The volunteers scored old people’s odors highest for pleasantness and lowest for intensity.