Research Article: The Scent of Blood: A Driver of Human Behavior?

Date Published: September 23, 2015

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): James K. Moran, Daniel R. Dietrich, Thomas Elbert, Bettina M. Pause, Lisa Kübler, Roland Weierstall, Heather Hoffmann.


The scent of blood is potentially one of the most fundamental and survival-relevant olfactory cues in humans. This experiment tests the first human parameters of perceptual threshold and emotional ratings in men and women of an artificially simulated smell of fresh blood in contact with the skin. We hypothesize that this scent of blood, with its association with injury, danger, death, and nutrition will be a critical cue activating fundamental motivational systems relating to either predatory approach behavior or prey-like withdrawal behavior, or both. The results show that perceptual thresholds are unimodally distributed for both sexes, with women being more sensitive. Furthermore, both women and men’s emotional responses to simulated blood scent divide strongly into positive and negative valence ratings, with negative ratings in women having a strong arousal component. For women, this split is related to the phase of their menstrual cycle and oral contraception (OC). Future research will investigate whether this split in both genders is context-dependent or trait-like.

Partial Text

The goal of this experiment was to obtain first psychophysical characteristics of people’s perception of and reaction to the simulated scent of fresh blood, particularly with respect to its potential relation to fundamental approach/withdrawal motivational states.