I Sniff, Then You Sniff – A Looking At “Mirror Sniffing”
Christopher Philip

Researchers Anat Arzi, Limor Shedlesky, Lavi Secundo and Noam Sobel, Department of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel have found evidence that when we see other people take a sniff, we tend to take a sniff too.

There is plenty of research suggests that people use and are affected by chemosignaling – however, little is known exactly how this occurs and just how significant the process is in people.

The researchers assumed that when people viewed other people sniff, that they too would sniff in response.

The study was simple in that it measured peoples sniffing response as people watched the movie “Perfume,” which is rife with “olfactory sniffing events.”

The results found that when the characters in the movie sniffed, so too did the viewers, despite a lack of odors present. The effect was most significant when the characters were heard sniffing, but where not visible in the frame. The researchers have termed this behaviour “mirror sniffing.”

The researches liken this effect to the gazing effect where people track the gaze of others and also tend to look in the direction in which other people gaze. According to the researchers, the effect serves to highlight the “significance of olfactory information processing in human behavior.”

The mechanism for mirror sniffing may stem from people’s propensity to mirror other people’s postures, gestures, and mannerisms so as to create stronger bonds and more liking. However, unlike other forms of mirroring, mirror sniffing has the ability to provide new information which may be vital for survival such as the presence of noxious fumes, delicious food, or perhaps, even a predator or potential mate (historically speaking of course).

Consistent with this, explain the researchers in their paper, is that people tended to sniff when they hear another person sniff, rather then when they view the person sniff. This, they say, may be because when people see someone sniff, say an apple, it is known what the person is smelling. However, when sniffing is done out of sight, it is not known what smells might be present, thus prompting a person hearing the sniff, to also sniff in order to find out what exactly it is.

These results are quite interesting – and you might test them for yourself by taking a sniff here and there to see if you can influence sniffing from your fellow mates.

Resources

Arzi, Anat; Limor Shedlesky, Lavi Secundo and Noam Sobel. Mirror Sniffing: Humans Mimic Olfactory Sampling Behavior. Chem. Senses. 2014. 39: 277–281. doi:10.1093/chemse/bjt113