The Smell of Fear / The Smell of Sex


A year and a half ago, I wrote:

Walking the halls of the Harris County Criminal Courthouse, I smell
fear. The accused are often afraid, as you might expect, as are their
loved ones, but theirs is not the fear I smell.

The fear I smell oozes out from under doors leading to the judges’
chambers, locked to keep the outside world away, and from the robes of
the judges, concealing the firearms they carry (literally) to protect
themselves against some imagined danger. It wafts from the prosecutors,
likewise armed and armored with fear.

It also comes from the lives of the jurors who have been convinced
that they can’t safely walk the streets of their neighborhoods, that
there is a sexual predator lurking around every corner, and that crime
is out of control.

Where does all of this fear come from, and why?

I was waxing metaphorical, but only a little bit. I have smelled fear in the courtroom, from defendants, judges, and prosecutors as well as once (to my surprise) from myself.

I thought it was that the courtroom brings out the wolf in me, but it turns out that there is solid scientific basis for believing that even humans can detect the Scent of Fear (PDF, locked but free viewing).

(This post sat in my editing program for several weeks, until I saw this Eric Berger (the Houston Chronicle’s science columnist) article on the smell of sex.)

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0 responses to “The Smell of Fear / The Smell of Sex”

  1. Yes, fear does have a definite smell. Anyone who has ever gone into a bathroom close to a criminal courtroom on a criminal docket day has smelled it. If I ever have to go, I usually hike a few floors up or down to the land records floor. This might sound like a joke, but a check out the difference for yourself.

  2. Oh, one more tidbit you may enjoy linking smells with law, quoted from the box of the excellent game “Witch Trial” by Cheapass Games: “Ah, the invigorating smells of Springtime. The damp, musky nose of the courtroom. The smoky, sweaty aroma of the Guilty. And the sweet, sweet smell of our daily bread.”

  3. Oh yeah, Rice University actually published an article on the “smell of fear.”

    Women (especially younger fertile women) have a much better sense of smell than men. They can smell fear very well.

    I love this sort of stuff. Did you know that ovulating strippers earn a whole lot more than menstruating strippers? We are not that far removed from the other animals.

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