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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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