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, 9 (1), 5489

Body Odors (Even When Masked) Make You More Emotional: Behavioral and Neural Insights

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Body Odors (Even When Masked) Make You More Emotional: Behavioral and Neural Insights

Cinzia Cecchetto et al. Sci Rep.

Abstract

Morality evolved within specific social contexts that are argued to shape moral choices. In turn, moral choices are hypothesized to be affected by body odors as they powerfully convey socially-relevant information. We thus investigated the neural underpinnings of the possible body odors effect on the participants' decisions. In an fMRI study we presented to healthy individuals 64 moral dilemmas divided in incongruent (real) and congruent (fake) moral dilemmas, using different types of harm (intentional: instrumental dilemmas, or inadvertent: accidental dilemmas). Participants were required to choose deontological or utilitarian actions under the exposure to a neutral fragrance (masker) or body odors concealed by the same masker (masked body odor). Smelling the masked body odor while processing incongruent (not congruent) dilemmas activates the supramarginal gyrus, consistent with an increase in prosocial attitude. When processing accidental (not instrumental) dilemmas, smelling the masked body odor activates the angular gyrus, an area associated with the processing of people's presence, supporting the hypothesis that body odors enhance the saliency of the social context in moral scenarios. These results suggest that masked body odors can influence moral choices by increasing the emotional experience during the decision process, and further explain how sensory unconscious biases affect human behavior.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no competing interests.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Overview of the experimental procedure. (A) Overview of the experiment session; (B) Overview of a single trial of the moral decision-making task. See Fig. S1 of the Supplementary Information for an overview of the type of moral dilemmas and odor conditions.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Distribution of participants’ odor ratings. The black dots represent single data points, whereas the box-plot represents the interquartile range of each distribution, with the thick black horizontal bar corresponding to the median. Each box-plot is surrounded by a violin plot representing the smoothed distribution of data. Significant differences (p < 0.05) are indicated with a star.
Figure 3
Figure 3
Brain activation maps showing significant cluster of activations for (A) Incongruent >Congruent: significant activations in the left middle frontal gyrus, left inferior parietal gyrus and bilateral precuneus; (B) Masked body odor >Masker: significant activations in the left supramarginal gyrus; (C) Incongruent (masked body odor >masker) >Congruent (masked body odor >masker): significant activations in the left supramarginal gyrus. Statistical maps are derived with a threshold of p < 0.05 FWE corrected and superimposed on a standard T1 template. Color scale represents t statistics. Image labels: L = left, R = right.
Figure 4
Figure 4
Brain activation maps showing significant cluster of activations for (A) Accidental >Instrumental: significant activations in the left lingual gyrus, left fusiform gyrus, the left inferior occipital gyrus and the left middle occipital gyrus; (B) Instrumental >Accidental: significant activations in the bilateral precuneus; (C) Accidental (masked body odor >masker) >Instrumental (masked body odor >masker; significant): significant activations in the left superior and inferior parietal gyrus and in the right angular gyrus. Statistical maps are derived with a threshold of p < 0.05 FWE corrected and superimposed on a standard T1 template (Coronal and sagittal views are displayed). Color scale represents t statistics. Image labels: L = left, R = right.

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