The study is interesting in and of itself, but also raises questions about the way we increasingly interact with one another.
Here's what the researchers did in Phase 1: They collected the tears shed by 12 women as the participants watched the sappy movie "The Champ." They also dripped saltwater on the women's faces and collected those drops of saltwater.
In Phase 2, 100 male volunteers looked at photos of attractive women and watched three types of films: sad, neutral or erotic. During this time, the men had a cotton pad placed under their nose; the pad contained either drops of tears or saltwater collected during Phase 1. (The men couldn't tell which was which because the tears didn't smell different than the saltwater.)
During the film, the researchers measured the volunteers' levels of testosterone, pulse and other measures of sexual interest. Neuroimages of the volunteers' brains showed analogous results: Men who sniffed tears -- versus saltwater -- had decreased activity in the part of the brain associated with arousal.
It's a neat study and shows that the effects we have on others when we cry (at least women's crying; the equivalent study of men's tears hasn't been done yet) aren't necessarily all because of the emotional cues and social conventions and roles. There is also a chemical, visceral reaction to the teardrops.
Other studies show that armpit sweat also contains chemo-signals. It appears that such studies may be the tip of the iceberg in identifying chemo-signals that influence our emotions and behavior toward each other.
Which got me thinking: With so much of our lives -- even our interpersonal lives -- happening online (think Facebook), we will lose those chemo-signals.
Those chemo-signals may help guide or nudge our social behavior. So when swatches of our lives take place without such chemicals floating from one person's body to another person's nose, will our emotions, behavior and thoughts change in such interactions?
In the absence of such signals in our online lives, do we become attracted to different types of people than we would if we could breathe in their sweat?
But in these cases, we know that we are missing a huge amount of information: We are not seeing the nonverbal aspects of communication. The body language and facial expressions. Most of us realize this absence of information and adjust our responses accordingly. We ask a question to help us resolve ambiguity in the sender's message. With videoconferencing, though, we think we have a complete communication.
Based on this study and others, it's becoming clear that we may not have as much information as we think.
Robin S. Rosenberg is a clinical psychologist, speaker and author of "The Psychology of Superheroes: An Unauthorized Exploration." She is the general editor of the Oxford Superhero Series. Read her blog on Red Room.