Being terrified is infectious
The smell of fear really does exist, according to a new study, which also suggests that being terrified is infectious. The study, conducted by Dr Bettina Pause and colleagues at the University of Dusseldorf in Germany, suggests that people subconsciously detect whether others are scared by picking up chemicals they release from their bodies.
Researchers believe the signals can be contagious and can spread around a group.
For the study, researchers put cotton pads under the armpits of 49 student volunteers before they were due to start a university exam, reports the Telegraph.
Pause and colleagues also collected sweat from the same group of students as they worked out on exercise bikes.
They asked another group of 28 volunteer students to sniff the cotton pads while their brains were monitored with an MRI scanner.
None were able to tell the difference between ‘panic sweat’ and ‘exercise sweat’ but the brain scans told a different story.
When sniffing ‘panic sweat’, the researchers found that the regions of the brain that handle emotional and social signals became far more active. Parts of the brain involved in empathy also lit up.
The researchers reckon that fear and anxiety trigger the release of a chemical that makes other people empathise.