The Smell of Fear

We know that plants and animals communicate via smell, but if and how humans communicate non-verbally via small molecules in the air, remains enigmatic. Can we “smell” the feelings of another person nearby? Our project will discover relationships between emotional stimuli and molecules exhaled by humans, through novel experiments, and through developing a new and broadly applicable data mining approach to analyse the resultant data.

The human body continuously emits a vast number of molecules into the air known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). While experiments have been performed to characterise VOC emissions as a function of age, gender, diet, and exercise, little attention has been paid to whether breath reflect a person’s current emotional state. Our investigation is a completely new direction of research; combining our team’s skills in atmospheric chemistry, breath analysis, emotional response analysis, and data mining. It is based on our preliminary findings in regard to regular patterns of VOC emissions in movie theatres. This work has high potential impact in research communities including medicine, psychology, and biology and their further applications of the new knowledge.