Why babies smell lovely, but teenagers pong
- Research has shown the smell of a new baby is like a drug for women
- But a study has found the effect wears off the older a child gets
- These older children smell different because of hormones like testosterone
Any parent who has held a newborn child knows the powerful feelings their fresh, warm baby smell can evoke.
The smell of sweaty socks and a toxic blast of aftershave really can’t compete.
So it may be unsurprising that parents who love the smell of their children become much less enamoured during their teenage years.
Women are evolutionarily programmed to bond with their tiny child and protect them.
Research has shown the smell of a new baby is like a drug for women, who are evolutionarily programmed to bond with their tiny child and protect them.
But a study has found the effect wears off the older a child gets, especially past their 14th birthday.
Researchers from the Technical University of Dresden, writing in the journal Chemosensory Perception, state: ‘Parents typically report that the odour of their baby is one of the most pleasant scents that they can imagine.
When asked to rate the smell of their child, 93.7 per cent of the 235 parents in the study rated infants as pleasant or very pleasant
‘Within days or even hours of giving birth, mothers can distinguish the smell of their child from the smell of other babies.’
But they add: ‘While parents seem to enjoy the body odour of their babies, they rarely talk with the same fascination about the body odour of their pubertal or post-pubertal children.’
When asked to rate the smell of their child, 93.7 per cent of the 235 parents in the study rated infants as pleasant or very pleasant. But only 75.2 per cent of parents asked rated their teenage children, aged 14 and older, as smelling pleasant.
The reason is probably very similar to the ‘baby schema’ – a theory that babies are born with big eyes, large heads and round faces so that we will find them cute and look after them.
The study, also involving the University of Wroclaw in Poland, found parents who spend more time with their children and have a better relationship with them
Smell may work similarly, to convince us to care for babies when it is inconvenient, time-consuming and expensive to do so.
Like the big eyes and round face, the researchers suggest, a pleasant smell is no longer needed when a child becomes able to look after themselves.
‘Hence the biological triggers of care, such as the baby schema, lose importance and vanish during transition into adulthood.’
The study, also involving the University of Wroclaw in Poland, found parents who spend more time with their children and have a better relationship with them are more likely to like the way they smell.
‘Body odours of pre-pubertal children are evaluated as very pleasant in general and the sheer presence of a baby body odour activates reward-related brain areas,’ it states.
‘It seems that the perception of body odours may contribute to parent-child bonding.’
The smell is a reward mechanism for babies’ parents, but the authors also suggest it may also be a way to prevent incest.
Parents like the smell of their children, but they are not attracted to the smell, or their children, when they are older
Parents like the smell of their children, which is genetically similar to their own, when they are very young.
But they are not attracted to the smell, or their children, when they are older.
Questionnaire results for the 235 parents, none of whom were couples, found the pleasantness of their child’s smell dropped off when they were four to eight years old, fell again for nine to 14-year-olds and even more so for teenagers.
These older children smell different because of hormones like testosterone, which hit when they start puberty, and the odour of perfumes, aftershaves, cigarettes or alcohol when they are older.
A study by the University of Montreal in 2013 found women smelling a newborn baby felt as good as an addict getting drugs or someone eating a burger after a long fast.
The reaction for women, and specifically the baby’s mother, heightened levels of ‘happy hormone’ dopamine in the brain.
Courtesy: Daily Mail Online