Date of Award

Spring 2011

Document Type

Restricted Thesis

Terms of Use

© 2011 Susanna D. Mitro. All rights reserved. Access to this work is restricted to users within the Swarthmore College network and may only be used for non-commercial, educational, and research purposes. Sharing with users outside of the Swarthmore College network is expressly prohibited. For all other uses, including reproduction and distribution, please contact the copyright holder.

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Biology Department

First Advisor

Julie Hagelin

Second Advisor

Sara Hiebert Burch


Many species extract age-related information from conspecific body odors to facilitate social interaction. Because humans can detect certain biological information in body odor, and human body odor changes chemically with age, this study was undertaken to investigate whether 1) humans can discriminate between age groups, and 2) humans can determine relative or absolute age, based on body odor alone. Body odor was collected from the armpits of male and female young (20-30 years old), middle-aged (45-55 y.o), and old (75-95 y.o.) donors, combined into "super-donor" stimuli composed of 4 individuals representing each sex and age group, and smelled by male and female subjects (20-30 y.o.). Subjects were able to discriminate between age groups, especially within their own sex, based on body odor alone. However, subjects were unable to determine the relative or absolute age of the donors whose body odor they smelled. Additionally, some evidence was found to support the popular idea that the elderly possess a qualitatively distinct "old person odor." This study provides the first evidence of a human ability to extract age-related information from body odor alone, although the mechanism underlying this ability remains unknown.