You hear dramatic phrases like “the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife”. But is there really something legitimately measurable in the air, and is what’s measured truly our emotions filling the ether? One German scientist who spoke to The Atlantic believes so.

“We’re not like that—not like robots following chemicals,” Johathan Williams explained. “But it could be possible that we are influenced by chemicals emitted by other humans.”

The article continued by saying, “The idea of airborne pheromones—chemicals that specifically influence mating behaviors— has been a source of much fascination, but the actual evidence is weak. Some small studies have suggested an effect when people put cotton balls under their armpits, and then other people smell the balls—but in minor, unreliable ways.

Williams joked, “I don’t know why so many previous researchers have been so into armpits,” said Williams. “A much better way to communicate would be through your breath. Because you can direct your breath, and your breath is at roughly the same height as the person you’re trying to communicate to, silently. In the dark, maybe, in your cave.” And if these behavior-modifying volatile chemicals exist (volatile meaning anything that goes into the air), then why would they be limited to sex? Why shouldn’t we be able to signal fear or anxiety? It is true that birds seem to know that I’m afraid of them.”