People say love is blind, but is love also anosmic? A new study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology suggests that people may actually smell their partner’s body odor differently based on their attachment style.
Attachment styles are integral to how individuals experience their romantic relationships. Based on the quality of caregiving a person received as a child, people can develop secure, preoccupied, dismissing-avoidant, or fearful-avoidant attachment, which will continue to affect their adult lives and relationships.
Smell has been thought to be connected to attachment and the smell of a person’s body odor has been shown to be a tool that can hint at mating fitness or trigger a disgust reaction. This study seeks to explore how people with different attachment styles experience disgust about body odor.
For their research, Amy Shell and colleagues utilized 401 undergraduate students to serve as their sample. Participants were predominantly female and heterosexual, with a mean age of 20.83 years old. Participants completed a survey online through Qualtrics that consisted of measures including demographics, experiences in relationships, and multiple disgust measures.
The disgust measures included the three-domain disgust sensitivity scale, measures of body odor disgust, disgust toward visual representations of body odor, and disgust about relational body odor which includes disgust toward current and previous partner’s body odor.
Results showed that olfactory disgust ratings about body odor did differ with attachment style. Participants with dismissing-avoidant attachment style had the highest levels of disgust toward their current partner’s body odor among the four styles.
For secure, preoccupied, and fearful-avoidant participants, their partner’s body odor was rated as less disgusting than a stranger’s body odor, while participants with a dismissing-avoidant attachment style rated them on similar levels of disgust. This study also revealed that fearful-avoidant and dismissing-avoidant people had less romantic partners in their histories than secure or preoccupied individuals.
This study took strides into better understanding olfactory disgust in relationships and the relationship between this disgust and attachment styles. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One such limitation is that this study was predominantly female, and females tend to show higher levels of disgust sensitivity, which could impede on generalizability. Additionally, this study relied on the assumption that romantic partners would be the attachment figured for the participants; future research could incorporate a measure to confirm this.
“A key strength of the current research project was the use of numerous disgust sensitivity measures, which provided a more nuanced understanding of the association between disgust and attachment,” the researchers said. “Therefore, this pioneering study raises tantalizing future research opportunities, such as examining how disgust is involved in attachment avoidance and how the mental and physical health benefits of being in a romantic relationship might extend to individuals with dismissing-avoidant attachment.”
The study, “Particular body odors matter: Disgust sensitivity differs across attachment groups“, was authored by Amy Shell, Anna Blomkvist, and Mehmet K. Mahmut