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The idea that certain fragrances can attract women is often used as a marketing tool to sell deodorants or perfumes for men. The same goes for women and men. They claim that if this product is used, the object of their desire will be attracted.

It is pretty obvious that the advertisements do not match with reality, but I want to know if there is some truth in it.

Of course everybody has an individual taste, but, are there specific scents which have a statistically-proven attraction effect on either gender?

References:

In University of Vienna, Austria, a similar research attempted to find out whether males could sense ovulation by smelling "copulins" [...] The results showed that males' testosterone levels increased when they smelled the copulins.

[...] Scents that attract women include concentrated sprays with ingredients such as roots, wild grasses, exotic barks, rare wine resins, and the like. These not only attract the opposite sex, but also increase their sexual desires.

Researchers (as well as fragrance companies) have been hoping to find a human sex pheromone for decades, but so far the search has failed, says George Preti of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. “That doesn’t mean a human sex pheromone doesn’t exist,” Preti is quick to add. “It just means we haven’t found one yet.”

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    These commercials aren't serious claims. They are using hyperbole to garner attention. There are certainly better examples of human pheromone claims. – Oddthinking Aug 29 '13 at 11:36
  • Sort of what I was thinking, @Oddthinking... I can think of bits and pieces of studies about pheromones and "carrier" scents but it really goes both ways and is not a "women" issue as much as an animal / human claim... – AthomSfere Aug 30 '13 at 0:41
  • I found a interesting article. Added it in the original post – Jakob Abfalter Aug 30 '13 at 10:52
  • Perhaps by association? If I associate a particular scent with one or many attractive people, that could plausibly add to the attraction I feel towards someone else, all other things being equal, wearing that scent. – Mike Jun 18 '14 at 5:03
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No. Evidence for pheromonal communication was found in mice. This kind of communication requires a pheromone and a sensory organ. There is no sensory organ in humans.

It is more than 50 years since the term pheromone was proposed to label a category of chemical signals produced by one member of a species that elicit a definite response in another member of the same species. Since then, many pheromones have been identified in invertebrates, but the concept is less easily applied to vertebrates and especially to mammals. The problem is that robust pheromonal responses have proved difficult to identify in mammals. Indeed, mammalian behavioral responses are so strongly modulated by context and learning that this has led some investigators to question whether mammalian pheromones really exist.

Source: Brennan PA. On the scent of sexual attraction. BMC Biol. 2010 Jun 3;8:71. doi: 10.1186/1741-7007-8-71. PubMed PMID: 20504292.

Pheromones are sensed using the vomeronasal receptors:

In most species, there are two chemosensory systems, both located in the nasal cavity but physiologically and anatomically distinct. The main olfactory epithelium (MOE) is principally involved in the airborne odor perception, whereas the vomeronasal organ (VNO) of Jacobson in the detection of pheromones that are chemical compounds secreted or excreted by individuals of the same species (conspecifics).

But humans do not posses this kind of sensors:

The anatomical components of the VNO firstly developed in a tetrapod ancestor and led to the appearance of a rudimentary structure in amphibians that became highly organized in Squamata and in many mammalian orders as Didelphimorphia, Rodentia, and in primates (prosimians and New World monkeys). In contrast, VNO is virtually absent in birds, bats, Old World monkeys, apes, and humans.

Source: Francia S, Pifferi S, Menini A, et al. Vomeronasal Receptors and Signal Transduction in the Vomeronasal Organ of Mammals. In: Mucignat-Caretta C, editor. Neurobiology of Chemical Communication. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press; 2014. Chapter 10. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK200993/

  • In other news, humans are unable to eat meat because they don't have the same kinds of teeth as big cats? – ChrisW Jun 17 '14 at 18:03
  • @ChrisW kind of. Humans don't have vomeronasal receptors. Human pheromones may or may not exist. But how can they be identified when there are no receptors to act on? – Cornelius Jun 17 '14 at 18:06
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    This seems to cover the case of pheromones, but what about the more general case of scents that aren't pheromones such as the "roots, wild grasses, ..." mentioned in the question? – rjzii Jun 17 '14 at 18:49
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At present I don't think this question can be answered. The science of chemo-signalling in humans is at its infancy, and a number of substances secreted by humans have been found that have an effect on others. For instance the odorous steroid compound 4,16-androstadien-3-one (androstadienone), found in axillary sweat causes a hypothalamic response in both men and women.[1]

When exposed to the "high" androstadienone concentration, women showed stronger hypothalamic activation than men. By contrast, men showed more hypothalamic activation when exposed to the "medium" androstadienone concentrations in comparison to women.

Tears also appear to contain a chemosignal, which not unexpectedly are a turn off for both sexes: [2]

We found that merely sniffing negative-emotion-related odorless tears obtained from women donors induced reductions in sexual appeal attributed by men to pictures of women's faces. Moreover, after sniffing such tears, men experienced reduced self-rated sexual arousal, reduced physiological measures of arousal, and reduced levels of testosterone. Finally, functional magnetic resonance imaging revealed that sniffing women's tears selectively reduced activity in brain substrates of sexual arousal in men.

There appears to be some gender differences in responses, so this one to fear was only found in females: [3]

Facial electromyography was used in a double-blind experiment to measure in the receiver a partial reproduction of the state of the sender, controlling for the moderating influence of the sex of the sender and receiver. The results indicated that only female participants emulated the fearful state of the sender. The present study revealed a boundary condition for effective chemosignaling by reporting behavioral evidence of sexual asymmetry in olfactory communication via chemosignals.

Disgust can also be transmitted by chemosignals [4]

disgust chemosignals evoked a disgusted facial expression and sensory rejection (decreased sniff magnitude, target-detection sensitivity, and eye scanning). These findings underline the neglected social relevance of chemosignals in regulating communicative correspondence outside of conscious access.

However, the signal for sexual attraction/excitation has not yet been identified, or should we say published.


[1] Burke SM, Veltman DJ, Gerber J, [..], Bakker J. Heterosexual men and women both show a hypothalamic response to the chemo-signal androstadienone. PLoS ONE. 2012 Jul 16;7(7):e40993. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0040993. PubMed PMID: 22815889.

[2] Gelstein S, Yeshurun Y, Rozenkrantz L, [..], Sobel N. Human tears contain a chemosignal. Science. 2011 Jan 14;331(6014):226-30. doi: 10.1126/science.1198331. PubMed PMID: 21212322.

[3] de Groot JH, Semin GR, Smeets MA. Chemical Communication of Fear: A Case of Male-Female Asymmetry. J Exp Psychol Gen. 2014 Mar 3. doi: 10.1037/a0035950. PubMed PMID: 24588218.

[4] de Groot JH, Smeets MA, Kaldewaij A, [..], Semin GR. Chemosignals communicate human emotions. Psychol Sci. 2012 Sep 27;23(11):1417-24. doi: 10.1177/0956797612445317. PubMed PMID: 23019141.

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