The Situation of a Loved One’s Clothes
Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 15, 2009
Interesting piece by Linda Carroll of MSNBC on how we take comfort in the clothing worn by loved ones. We excerpt the piece below.
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As many as three-quarters of women say they snuggle with shirts and other clothing worn by someone dear, but not near, researchers reported in a study published in the December issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Even more striking was the data on men: A full two-thirds of men admitted to cuddling with clothing.
To learn more about how ordinary people used body scents to evoke memories, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh rounded up 121 night school students. The students were asked several questions, including whether they’d ever intentionally smelled another person’s clothing to remember or feel closer to him or her, whether they’d ever slept with (or in) another person’s clothing because it smelled like him or her and whether they’d ever given an article of unlaundered clothing to a loved one because it smelled like them.
Although the students mostly reported smelling or sleeping with the clothing of a romantic partner, some said they had also gotten comfort from smelling the clothing of a child or other close relative.
The scent of love
The findings seem to run counter to what you’d expect from a culture inundated with products designed to obliterate personal scents, from deodorant to mouthwash. Even the researchers were surprised to see how many people use smell to conjure up a loved one’s memory.
“It’s the kind of thing that never really comes up in normal conversation,” says the study’s lead author, Melanie Shoup, now a doctoral student at the State University of New York at Albany. “But when I was going through high school and college, I would wear a boyfriend’s shirt to bed when I was separated from him. And when I asked my friends, they said they had done similar things.”
Some of the study subjects provided specifics, such as a father who smelled his baby daughter’s clothes to feel close to her and a woman whose boyfriend sent unlaundered shirts back from Iraq in plastic bags to preserve his scent.
Students also talked about memories evoked by a dead person’s belongings. People would say that as they were going through a relative’s clothing, the scent on the clothes would suddenly hit them. “It was almost like a presence,” Schoup says.
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