Families don?t like the way each other smells, according to researchers, who say this may be nature’s way of discouraging incest. Scientists at Wayne State University in Detroit tested family members to see if they could recognize one other by their smell. They studied 25 families with children between ages 6 and 15, and gave them T-shirts to sleep in and odorless soap to wash with. They were told to keep the shirts in plastic bags and were later asked to sniff two T-shirts, one worn by a family member and another worn by a stranger.
They found that mothers and fathers could usually tell when they were smelling their pre-adolescent children, with mothers being slightly better at it than fathers, but they could not say which child was which. Children younger than nine, except for sons who had been breastfed, generally could not recognize their mothers? smell, while older children could. All the children recognized their fathers.
Whether or not they recognized which T-shirt belonged to a family member, they usually said they preferred the smell of a stranger’s shirt. Mothers did not like the smell of their children, and children had a strong aversion to the way their fathers smelled. Children of the same sex were not offended by each other’s smell, but children of opposite sex were.
Researcher Tiffany Czilli says that she thinks the dislike of each other’s odors is nature’s way of preventing incest, by making people less appealing to their closest relatives.
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