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Smelling another's sweat can cure social anxiety

Mental Health
 Unappealing as it may seem, exposure to others' sweat combined with mindful therapy showed a 40 per cent reduction in anxiety. [iStockphoto]

A new study has found that people with social anxiety may benefit from human chemo-signals or basically smelling odours from other people's sweat.

Unappealing as it may seem, exposure to others' sweat combined with mindful therapy showed a 40 per cent reduction in anxiety. Those who underwent only mindful therapy showed a 17 per cent reduction in anxiety.

The research conducted by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and presented at the European congress of psychiatry in Paris involved collecting sweat from volunteers and exposing social anxiety patients to chemo-signals obtained from those samples.

The samples were collected from volunteers who watched clips from films that evoke particular emotional states, such as extreme fear or happiness. The films ranged from comedies like Mr Bean's Holiday to horror such as The Grudge.

Once the sweat was collected, researchers recruited 48 participants, all known to suffer from social anxiety, then divided them into three groups, each comprised of 16 people. They all received mindfulness therapy for social anxiety for two days. Each group was exposed to either sweat samples or clean air.

The study concluded that participants exposed to the odour samples responded better to the therapy.

"We were surprised to find out that the emotional state of the person producing the sweat didn't differ in treatment outcomes. The sweat produced while someone was happy had the same effect as someone who'd been scared by a horror film," the lead researcher Elisa Vigna told SWNS, a UK and US-based news and media content agency.

She explained that an individual's state of mind triggered the production of chemicals in sweat that communicated an emotional state and triggered a corresponding response in other people.

"There could be something about human chemo-signals in sweat which generally affects the response to treatment. It may be the simple fact of being exposed to the presence of someone else, but more research is needed to confirm this."

The NHS describes social anxiety as an enduring and overwhelming fear of social situations. Management of the disorder includes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with a therapist and, in some cases, taking antidepressant medicines.

Those affected describe an intense fear of being judged or rejected in social settings.

They tend to avoid certain situations and can feel extremely crippled to the point of panic if these environments are inescapable.

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