Sense of Smell to Identify Criminals

Sense of Smell to Identify CriminalsSense of Smell to Identify Criminals

A new study has found that our sense of smell may be just as reliable as sight when it comes to identifying a criminal. For example, if you got a whiff of a person’s body odor right as he ran up and snatched your purse, you may be able to pick him out of a line-up based on his smell.

The reasoning behind this is that our sense of smell is directly linked to the areas of the brain associated with emotion and memory: the hippocampus and the amygdala. Furthermore, research has shown that humans have the ability to distinguish individuals by their unique body odor, says an article on

“Police often use human eye-witnesses, and even ear-witnesses, in lineups but, to date, there have not been any human nose-witnesses,” said Professor Mats Olsson, experimental psychologist at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. “We wanted to see if humans can identify criminals by their body odor.”

To gain a better understanding of human odor memory associated with stressful events, researchers investigated how well we identify body odor in a forensic setup. In their first study, participants watched video clips of people committing violent crimes, accompanied by a body odor that they were told belonged to the criminal.

The participants were also shown neutral videos, with a similar setup. Then they identified the criminal’s body odor from a lineup of five different men’s odors with 70% accuracy.

 “It worked beyond my expectation,” explained Olsson. “Most interestingly — participants were far better at remembering and identifying the body odor involved in the emotional setting.”

The new findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.