University of Pittsburgh
February 5, 2007

Have You Ever Sought Comfort From the Smell of Your Loved One's Clothing? Pitt Researcher Says You're Not Alone

Contact: 

Sharon Blake

412-624-4364

Cell: 412-277-6926

PITTSBURGH-With Valentine's Day approaching, a University of Pittsburgh psychologist reminds us that romantic thoughts can abound even when a couple is apart, if one partner smells or sleeps with the clothing of the other.

We are all familiar with the image of a woman picking up her husband's shirt and putting it to her face to detect his scent. Pitt researcher Sybil Streeter has found that this behavior occurs from one corner of the globe to the other.

Collaborating with Donald McBurney, professor emeritus in the Department of Psychology in Pitt's School of Arts and Sciences, and Harald Euler, professor of psychology at the University of Kassel, Germany, Streeter surveyed people who were or had been in committed relationships. The researchers found that 66 percent of the German women and 72 percent of Pittsburgh women surveyed had, in the absence of their partners, slept with their clothing. Men reported lower incidences of the phenomenon: 29 percent in Germany and 26 percent in Pittsburgh.

"It does indeed appear that women engage in these behaviors more than men do," said Streeter. "Some colleagues suggested that men may be less willing to admit it, but we've gone to great lengths to rule out that possibility."

Streeter also says women appear to indulge themselves in these behaviors in a much broader range of relationships. For instance, more women report smelling the clothing of their parents or their children. And preliminary data suggests that the scent of a romantic partner may reduce one's negative feelings.

In addition, the researchers also reviewed the responses of people based on their romantic attachment style-preoccupied, dismissive, secure, or fearful-standardized styles established by researchers Phil Hazen and Cindy Shaver in a 1987 paper published in the Journal of "Personality and Social Psychology." For example, when categories of Pittsburgh men and women are combined, those with a secure attachment style-comfortable depending on people and being depended upon-are more likely to intentionally smell their partner's clothing. Those with dismissive attachment-independent and comfortable without close emotional relationships-are less likely.

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