When women talk about being aggressively protective over their babies, they are telling the truth. Now science has found the chemical emitted by babies that helps mothers be so protective: hexadecanal or HEX.
Humans emit HEX from their skin, saliva, and feces, and it’s among the most abundant molecules babies emit from their heads. When researchers isolated the odorless compound and piped it into mouse cages, it had a relaxing effect on the animals, says Sobel, who studies the role of scent in human interactions.Chemical emitted by babies could make men more docile, women more aggressive. Science. 19 NOV 2021 2:00 PM BY EMILY UNDERWOOD
To test how HEX affects people, Eva Mishor, who earned her Ph.D. in Sobel’s lab, created a series of computer games designed to evoke intense frustration—and a measurable response to it—in 126 human participants. Half of the volunteers wore a HEX-infused adhesive strip on their upper lips while they played, whereas the other half wore strips that smelled identical but were HEX-free.
Sniffing HEX did not calm all the participants down, but had different impacts on men and women, the team reports today in Science Advances. Women exposed to the chemical behaved 19% more aggressively in the noise-blast task, whereas men were 18.5% less aggressive.