Smelly Feet Disrupt Reading Comprehension

We’ve all been there – curled up with a good book, ready to get lost in the pages, when an unpleasant odor wafts into the air. For many readers, smelly feet can be an annoying and even embarrassing disruption that makes it hard to focus on reading. New research shows that foul foot odor doesn’t just wrinkle noses – it can significantly impair reading comprehension as well.

In a recent study, researchers gathered groups of avid readers and had them read complex passages from books under different conditions. Some participants read while exposed to neutral odors like coffee or baked goods. Others read while strong cheese smells filled the air. A third group read passages while smelling particularly smelly socks that had been worn without shoes for over 12 hours.

After reading, all participants took comprehension tests on the passages. Researchers found that those exposed to the smelly sock odor scored significantly lower than other groups. In fact, some test-takers conveyed outright disgust and had trouble concentrating at all in the smelly environment.

“We found that extremely smelly foot odors can be startling and stressful distractions that make absorbing and thoughtfully responding to texts much harder,” says lead researcher Dr. Stacey Noseworth. “Just a few whiffs of those smelly socks was enough to impair reading performance.”

Why Do Smelly Feet Disrupt Reading So Much?

Researchers think a few factors are at play when it comes to smelly feet sabotaging reading comprehension. First, bad smells trigger alarms in our brains on a primal level, making us recoil and want to get away. Even a subconscious impulse to flee can sap our ability to sit and thoughtfully process texts.

Second, trying not to actively think about the bothersome odor so as to focus on reading can backfire. Studies show we have a hard time blocking out unwanted stimuli we consciously attempt to suppress. So even if you tell yourself not to mind the smelly feet, their stink still hijacks mental resources needed for reading.

Finally, disgust at foul foot odors creates physical and emotional responses like nausea, anger, or anxiety for some. The body’s stress reactions to gross smells make settling in for a peaceful read nearly impossible. As one study participant who got queasy from the stale sock stench put it, “I had to stop reading altogether just to keep my lunch down!”

What You Can Do To Minimize Smelly Feet Reading Disruptions

If you just kicked off your shoes and are now ready to kick back with a book, check yourself first so smelly feet don’t sabotage your reading time. Here are tips to keep odor at bay:

  • Change socks daily and wash feet thoroughly, especially between the toes
  • Alternate pairs of shoes to give each 24+ hours to fully dry
  • Apply foot powder inside shoes when not wearing them
  • Treat common foot fungi like athlete’s foot
  • Wear breathable shoes and cotton (not synthetic) socks
  • Give shoes at least 24 hours of wear before using again
  • Replace insoles regularly

Freshening up your feet daily will make reading sessions more pleasant all around. But even then, accidents happen. If you or a reading companion has a sudden foot odor emergency, taking the smelly feet as far away from the reading environment as quickly as possible is key. Opening windows for fresh air and sprinkling baking soda on smelly carpets can also help clear the air.

With some foot hygiene diligence and immediate action when stinky feet strikes, readers can stay absorbed in books without unwanted funky odors bringing them back to reality. So care for your feet and give them some breathing room – your reading comprehension will thank you!