Pleasant body odours, but not genetic similarity, influence trustworthiness in a modified trust game

Lobmaier, Janek; Probst, Fabian; Fischbacher, Urs; Wirthmüller, Urs; Knoch, Daria (2020). Pleasant body odours, but not genetic similarity, influence trustworthiness in a modified trust game. Scientific reports, 10(1), p. 3388. Springer Nature 10.1038/s41598-020-60407-6

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Identifying trustworthy partners is an important adaptive challenge for establishing mutually cooperative relationships. Previous studies have demonstrated a marked relationship between a person’s attractiveness and his apparent trustworthiness (beauty premium). Kin selection theory, however, suggests that cues to kinship enhance trustworthiness. Here we directly tested predictions of the beauty premium and kin selection theory by using body odours as cues to trustworthiness. Body odours reportedly portray information about an individuals’ genotype at the human leucocyte antigen system (HLA) and thus olfactory cues in body odours serve as a promising means for kin recognition. Ninety men played trust games in which they divided uneven sums of monetary units between two male trustees represented by their body odour and rated each body odour for pleasantness. Half of the odours came from HLA-similar men (suggesting closer kin) and half from HLA dissimilar men (suggesting non-kin). We found that the amount of money the players transferred was not related to HLA-similarity, but to the pleasantness of the trustee’s body odour. By showing that people with more pleasant body odours are trusted more than people with unpleasant body odour we provide evidence for a “beauty-premium” that overrides any putative effect of kin.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Department of Haematology, Oncology, Infectious Diseases, Laboratory Medicine and Hospital Pharmacy (DOLS) > Institute of Clinical Chemistry
07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Social Neuroscience and Social Psychology

UniBE Contributor:

Lobmaier, Janek Simon, Wirthmüller, Urs, Knoch, Daria


600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology




Springer Nature




Janek Simon Lobmaier

Date Deposited:

26 Feb 2020 10:08

Last Modified:

02 Mar 2023 23:33

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:





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