Body odours as a chemosignal in the mother-child relationship: new insights based on an human leucocyte antigen-genotyped family cohort

Publikation: Beitrag in FachzeitschriftForschungsartikelBeigetragenBegutachtung



Mothers are able to identify the body odour (BO) of their own child and prefer this smell above other BOs. It has hence been assumed that the infantile BO functions as a chemosignal promoting targeted parental care. We tested this hypothesis and examined whether children's BOs signal genetic similarity and developmental status to mothers. In addition, we assessed whether BOs facilitate inbreeding avoidance (Westermarck effect). In a cross-sectional design, N = 164 mothers participated with their biological children (N = 226 children, aged 0-18 years) and evaluated BO probes of their own and four other, sex-matched children. Those varied in age and in genetic similarity, which was assessed by human leucocyte antigen profiling. The study showed not only that mothers identified and preferred their own child's BO, but also that genetic similarity and developmental status are transcribed in BOs. Accordingly, maternal preference of their own child's odour changes throughout development. Our data partly supported the Westermarck effect: mothers' preference of pubertal boys' BOs was negatively related to testosterone for the own son, but not for unfamiliar children. This article is part of the Theo Murphy meeting issue 'Olfactory communication in humans'.


Seiten (von - bis)20190266
Fachzeitschrift Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B, Biological sciences
PublikationsstatusVeröffentlicht - 8 Juni 2020

Externe IDs

PubMedCentral PMC7209942
Scopus 85082663188
ORCID /0000-0002-6555-5854/work/142250248



  • Adolescent, Adult, Child, Child, Preschool, Cross-Sectional Studies, Female, Humans, Infant, Infant, Newborn, Male, Middle Aged, Mother-Child Relations, Mothers, Nonverbal Communication/physiology, Odorants/analysis, Olfactory Perception/physiology, Smell/physiology