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Study: Psychopaths Linked To Poor Sense Of Smell

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Psychopaths have been linked to a poor sense of smell, a new study finds. (Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images)

Psychopaths have been linked to a poor sense of smell, a new study finds. (Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images)

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LAS VEGAS (CBS LAS VEGAS) – You may be able to sniff out a person you suspect is a psychopath.

Psychologists at Macquarie University in Australia tested the noses of more than 70 college-age participants – none of whom had a criminal record. The researchers had the subjects try to identify common odors (like orange, coffee and leather) and then differentiate the various scents.

The subjects were then given personality tests to check for their level of empathy and psychopathic tendencies. Psychopathy is a personality disorder marked by superficial charm, a lack of empathy and impulsive tendencies.

For example, the subjects were asked to rate on a 5-point scale how much they agreed with statements such as: “I purposely flatter people to get them on my side;” “People sometimes say that I’m cold-hearted;” and “I have broken into a building or vehicle in order to steal something or vandalize.”

The researchers reported a correlation between a poorer sense of smell and psychopathic personality traits.

The researchers said this makes sense because previous research had shown that people with such traits have decreased function in the brain’s frontal lobes, a region associated with impulse control and acting in accordance with social norms — and dysfunction in that part of the brain is associated with an impaired sense of smell.

Psychopaths, believed to make up as much as 1 percent of the general population, may attempt to fake answers during psychological evaluations, so a measure of smelling ability could offer a helpful new way to detect psychopathic traits, the researchers told Yahoo News.

The study, led by Mehmet K. Mahmut and Richard J. Stevenson, was published recently in the journal Chemosensory Perception.

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