(CBS News) Convinced that there is an "old people smell"? A new study suggests you might be right.
A study published in the May 30 issue of PLos ONE shows that different age groups come with a specific smell.
It's not necessarily a bad thing, Dr. Johan Lundstrom, a sensory neuroscientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, told WebMD. The scent itself isn't negative. Rather, it's the way that we perceive getting older that makes it smell bad.
"The negative association with old people's body odor seems to come from our negative association with old age," he explained to WebMD.
Old people smell has been recognized across the world, and even has a specific name, kareishu, in Japan. Previous animals studies have shown that there is a distinct scent for various age groups.
For the new study, researchers collected body odor from participants that fell within three age groups: 20 to 30, 45 to 55 and 75 to 95. Each person was instructed to wear an unscented T-shirt with underarm pads for five nights. Then, 41 different participants smelled the cut-up pads, which were placed in glass bottles. They were asked to rate the intensity and pleasantness of the smell, and then instructed to guess the donor's age.
The subjects were able to categorize the scents into the different age groups. As for who smelled the "sweetest," middle-aged women gave off the most appealing scent. Middle-aged men, however, not so much: They were ranked the least appealing, much lower than all the other groups.
Ranked in order of how good they smelled, here's how the age groups stacked up:
- Middle-aged women
- Old men
- Young women
- Old women
- Young men
- Middle-aged men
"Elderly people have a discernible underarm odor that younger people consider to be fairly neutral and not very unpleasant," said Lundstrom said in a press release. "This was surprising given the popular conception of old age odor as disagreeable. However, it is possible that other sources of body odors, such as skin or breath, may have different qualities."