Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Is the way to someone's heart through the nose?

Much has been made of human pheromones, in science and in industry. Advertisements for pheromone-enhanced perfumes grace the back pages of magazines, and a Google search of "Human Pheromone" turns up thousands of results, offering magic love potions just waiting to be applied. But is there any truth in it?

 Randi  Epstein, writing in Slate, looks at the evidence and says "No." Or, at least, none that we can prove. The idea that human attraction is based in pheromones is based on refuted research, and Epstein spells out why.  

However, the science between human attraction and arousal is far from being complete, and it does appear that scent plays a role. For example, do you remember that study that showed that the scent of a woman's tears was a turn-off for men? (Here's a link to the NYTimes coverage.)  The question is, of course, is this nature or nurture? 

Without a doubt, scents can be associated powerfully with memories. (Think of the smell of Christmas, or of grandma's house, for example.) But it seems this is likely to be learned. And as for pheromones, Epstein would likely advise us to save our money:

This shift in thinking is really quite liberating. It means, for one thing, that we may have more complicated relationships with our men than a female silkworm moth has with hers. It also means that we're not programmed to respond in one particular way but that we can learn—indeed, train ourselves—to respond to an odor the way we want to.

Link to the Slate article

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