University of Pittsburgh
April 28, 2004

Pitt Researchers Find That People Frequently Seek Comfort In the Scent of Partners' Clothing


Sharon Blake


Cell: 412-277-6926

PITTSBURGH—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. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh now have documented just how often this practice occurs.

A survey of 108 Pitt undergraduate students who were or had been in a committed relationship revealed that 72 percent of the women and 27percent of the men surveyed had slept in or with their partners' clothing while separated from their partners. Additionally, 87 percent of the women and 56 percent of the men deliberately smelled their partners' shirts or blouses. Many participants reported that the odor comforted them. The data were presented recently by the researchers at the national conference of the Association for Chemoreception Scientists in Sarasota, Fla.

"We were surprised at how commonly this occurs," said Pitt Psychology Professor Donald McBurney, who was assisted in the research by two Pitt psychology majors, graduate student Sybil Streeter and undergraduate student Melanie Shoup. "Men are just as interested in their partners' odor when present, but they do not seek it out as much when absent," McBurney said, noting that this study marks the first research into the prevalence of the activity.

"We know from other studies that women prefer partners with certain genetic traits that can be distinguished by smell," said Shoup, who is using the research as the basis for her thesis for the Department of Psychology Honors Program. "It is possible that smelling a piece of clothing is one way people evaluate their partners' genetic quality. Alternatively, a partner provides a sense of safety and security, especially to a woman. The odor may be a sign of that security."