Sex Differences in the Effect of Social Versus Non-Social Stress on Affect and Olfactory Functioning

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Clinical Psychology


Department of Psychology


Advisor: Julie Walsh-Messinger


Sex differences have been observed in both the processing odor stimuli (Cain, 1982; Doty & Cameron 2009; Doty et. al, 1984; Larrson et al., 2004) and response to different types of stress, specifically social and non-social acute stress (Dedovic et al., 2005; Stroud et al., 2002). This project aimed to investigate whether there is a sex difference in response to social and non-social stress and in odor detection sensitivity, odor identification, odor hedonic ratings, and odor intensity ratings following stress exposure. Forty-eight participants (18 Male, 30 Female) were pseudo-randomly assigned, stratified by biological sex, to one of two conditions: social stress or non-social stress. All participants completed Time 1 self-report measures of current mood, state and trait anxiety, chronic stress, depression, and generalized anxiety. Participants also underwent Time 1 testing of olfactory functioning including measures of: odor detection sensitivity, identification, hedonic ratings, and intensity ratings. In the social stress condition, participants underwent a modified version of the arithmetic section of the Trier Social Stress Test (Allen et al., 2017), which was completed in front of a confederate and a camera prop. Participants assigned to the non-social stress condition completed the same task on a blank sheet of paper. Following the stress-task, participants underwent Time 2 testing of olfactory functioning, and self-report measures of mood and state anxiety. Results indicated that females had greater anxiety after the social stress condition compared to males, and also had greater odor detection sensitivity and more accurate odor identification regardless of time and stress condition. Regardless of sex and stress condition, results of this study also indicated that chronic stress was associated with less pleasantness and greater intensity ratings. Depression was also correlated with greater unpleasantness ratings of odors and decreased accuracy of odor identification.


Clinical Psychology, olfaction, affect, stress, social stress, chronic stress

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