"Similar to other animals, humans can extract signals from body odors that allow us to identify biological age, avoid sick individuals, pick a suitable partner, and distinguish kin from non-kin," study author Johan Lundstrom of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia said.
Contrary to popular supposition, the so-called old-person smell is rated as less intense and less unpleasant than body odors of middle-aged and young individuals, the center reported Wednesday.
A rich array of chemical components in body odor can transmit information about an individual, researchers said, although the perceptual characteristics of these odors change across the lifespan along with changes in concentrations of the underlying chemicals.
Age-related odors are thought to help animals select suitable mates, they said, as older males might be desirable because they contribute genes that enable offspring to live longer, while older females might be avoided because their reproductive systems are more fragile.
The Monell experiments showed humans possess the same sensitivity to age-related body odor, the scientists said.