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Pheromones - Do Scents Make Sense?

Pheromones - their effect on social and business interactions What are pheromones and how do they affect us in our lives? The term introduced in the 1930's was derived from the Greek words "pherein" that means to carry and "hormone", to excite (Grammer, Fink, & Neave, 2004). Pheromones are considered to be ecto-hormones since they are released into the environment therefore allowing a form of silent communication between members of the same species. Scientists have long since know about and acknowledged the importance of pheromones in the insect and plant kingdoms and in mammals such as dogs and cats. In more recent times there has been acknowledgement of olfactory communication, using pheromones, amongst humans. There are different types of pheromones that are released for particular purposes and these are categorized as signal or primer pheromones. Signal pheromones are stated to produce short-term behavioral changes and act as attractants and repellents (Grammer, Fink, & Neave, 2004). These are used in sexual attraction and may be related to the emotions. The primer pheromones produce longer-lasting changes in behavior and bring about physiological changes in individuals. The changes occur as a result of the activation of a region of the brain that ultimately influences follicle maturation in the ovaries in females, and testosterone and sperm production in males (Grammer, Fink, & Neave, 2004). The categorization of pheromones is a matter of debate since the original categories were releaser and primer. According to Wysocki and Preti (2004), releaser pheromones differ from signal pheromones in that the former elicit a specific response while the latter provides information. Examples of the information provided by signal pheromones include the type of food recently consumed, and dominance status in society. The authors acknowledge that recent advances have resulted in the identification of pheromones that can be categorized as primers, signalers, modulators and releasers based on their functions. The functions are: menstrual cycle modifier, opposite-sex attractants or same-sex repellents attractants and mood modulators, and mother--infant bonding respectively. Detection of Pheromones The use of pheromones in mating has been recognized amongst insects, rats and rabbits however scientists believed that this was not possible in humans. The discovery of the vomeronasal organ (VNO), a specialized region of the olfactory system in humans has lead to a change in thinking regarding olfactory communication (Grammer, Fink, & Neave, 2004). These organs are located on the septal wall of the nasal cavity -- the region that separates the nasal cavities. Study of these organs found that participants reported a feeling of well being when the receptor cells were stimulated by various substances (Furlow, 1996). Since the discovery of the VNO in humans, the nose has been considered not only as a breathing apparatus or as an olfactory device for smelling, but as a receptacle for pheromones that stimulate sexual attraction. The VNO is quite distinct from the olfactory system in that the neurons leading from the VNO take a separate path into the brain that leads directly to the limbic structure (Grammer, Fink, & Neave, 2004). The limbic part of the brain directs sensations of joy, anger, love and hate and also regulates sexual behavior. This alternative pathway means smelling of the chemical signals that are involved in sexual activity or mating is not necessarily for stimulation of sexual attraction. Pheromones and gender Gender determines the pheromones released with males and females having a different set of pheromones. These pheromones are considered to generate an attraction between the sexes. Among animals such as rats and rabbits, as well as insects, the release of these pheromones by the female species signals that the female is ready to breed. Maybe this may have been the role of these pheromones in humans prior to the development of language. Pheromones become activated during puberty and are secreted from the secreted from the apocrine glands in the armpit and around the genitals pheromones (Grammer, Fink, & Neave, 2004; Wysocki, & Preti, 2004). Females produce vaginal aliphatic acid secretions known as "copulins" whilst males produce the steroidal secretions "androstenone" and "androstenol" in sweat (Kohl, 1996). Females also produce varying amounts of the male pheromones (Furlow, 1996). These pheromones can be synthetically produced and many commercial derivations are available on the market today. The natural pheromonal secretions are odorless however the presence of aerobic bacteria transforms them in to odorous chemicals. Generally, they signal the sexual and health state, and draws out a response from members of the opposite sex. Pheromones and sexual attraction In today's society the media has fueled our preoccupation with facial and body attractiveness. Yet, we may all know of someone who may not be facially attractive however has found a mate that finds them to be sexually attractive. Ever wondered why? Let's consider the person to have poor conversational skills, a bit shy and an introvert. How then did she/he attract their mate? Here is where we can consider the role of pheromones in the mating process. Social and sexual relationships are influenced by pheromones since these chemicals can influence behavior and physiology (Grammer, Fink, & Neave, 2004). It is believed that exposure to the female pheromones results in an increase in testosterone production in males. It was postulated that this cause and effect amounted to a chemical warfare technique utilized by unattractive women to induce a response in men similar to the physical attractiveness of other women (Grammer, Fink, & Neave, 2004) . In his review, Furlow (1996) reported that women are attracted to the male pheromone androstenone. In a study reviewed by Grammer, Fink & Neave (2004) female subjects were required to wear a necklace containing a male pheromone or a control substance. The females in the pheromone group reported more interaction with males compared with those who wore the control substance. Two studies on self-reported sociosexual behaviours in young men and women comparing the application of synthetic pheromones against a placebo, both found that the pheromone users reported an increase in sexual activity from baseline compared with the control group (Grammer, Fink, & Neave, 2004). These studies employed a double blinded randomized controlled design. This means that participants and researchers were unaware of the product being used and the participants were randomly distributed to the groups. This design is the best study type to investigate associations hence it provides the strongest evidence that pheromones play a role in sexual attraction. However these studies are not without limitations. Grammer, Fink and Neave (2004) stated that "the studies do not convincingly show that the pheromone and placebo groups were well matched; that the baseline and experimental conditions were matched in terms of various temporal and behavioural factors; that objective changes in sociosexual behaviours did occur; and that the pheromones served as a 'sexual attractants' rather than say a mood enhancer, confidence builder, etc". Female sensitivity to smell, and hence of the effect of the male pheromone, is observed to change during the menstrual cycle. During ovulation smell perception increases and the sensitivity to the male pheromones is stronger (Rikowski & Grammer, 1999). This fact can be utilized by women to have successful interactions with the opposite sex. Odor Pheromones are found in various human secretions from sweat, urine, breath, saliva, breast milk, skin oils and sexual secretions (Furlow, 1996). However, they do not produce an odor that is detected by the olfactory system. The human olfactory system is considered to be important in many social situations and in sexual interactions. Grammer, Fink and Neave (2004) cited studies that suggested the smell plays an important role in human reproduction. Researchers in Austria have shown that body odor does influence mate choice (Rikowski & Grammer, 1999). Raters were asked to assess the attractiveness of the odor on freeze dried (to preserve the odor) T-shirts worn by subjects for three consecutive nights. Of course the subjects were instructed to avoid strong odors from perfumed products, food, smoke and pubs and in the case of women the T-shirt had to be worn between the eighth and the eleventh day of her menstrual cycle. The researchers found that there is positive correlation between facial attractiveness and sexiness of body odor in females as rated by men. However they found that overall there was a negative association between odor and sexiness in men as rated by females -- the stronger the odor, the lower the rating of sexiness. They also noted that there was a difference in the rating of male odor by females dependant on the phase of the menstrual cycle -- females in the ovulation phase found strong odors to be sexier compared with those in the least fertile phase who rated the odor as more unpleasant. They therefore concluded that human odor could be a factor in mate selection. Whether this is due to the presence of pheromones on the stored T-shirts is a matter for further research on the effect of storage and temperature on these chemicals. Another study on odor by researchers at Brown University set out to investigate the association of response to odor (olfactory perception) and learning; whether response is due to innate nature or associated learning (Herz, & Hellerstein, 2004). According to the authors, hedonic perceptions refer to evaluations of liking and are assessed based on pleasantness, familiarity, and intensity. The innate view states that perception is a result of a predisposition at birth for smells while the learned view states that a person likes or dislikes a smell based on emotional states associated with the experience of the smell. The authors concluded that hedonic perceptions are learned through emotional association and are not merely a result of innate behavior. Can we conclude that response to pheromones is learned? This can only be determined by further research into the pre- and post-exposure to pheromones. The problem therefore will be to find test subjects who have not been previously exposed to pheromones. An unlikely task! Odor and you How does your body odor affect your relationships in social and business interactions? Can you identify your own odor? The most immediate olfactory situation of any person is that of their own body odor. In their study researchers at the State University of New York at Albany found that approximately 60% of the female undergraduate subjects and 6% of male subjects in their study were able to identify their own odor. (Platek, Burch, & Gallup Jr., 2001). This finding of poor smell acuity has been a theory that many researcher believe, stating that humans rely on visual and verbal cues, especially in the selection of a mate (Grammer, Fink, & Neave, 2004). While humans are visually stimulated and perception can be shaped by visual cues, the sense of smell will play a role on behavior based on proximity and in situations where lighting is diminished as in the case of bars and clubs. However the authors have shown that there is a significant difference in the identification of odors between men and women with females having a superior sense of their own odor (Platek, Burch, & Gallup Jr., 2001). This awareness can therefore benefit women in social and business situations. Pheromones and the menstrual cycle The pheromones involved in menstrual synchronicity are the most well known primer pheromones in humans (Wysocki, & Preti, 2004). It is a well known fact that females living in the same apartment or house develop synchronous menstrual cycles. It is believed that the release of primer pheromones causes this synchronicity, one pheromone being released prior to ovulation by the driver female resulting in the early onset of ovulation in the other females. Another pheromone that is released after ovulation retards ovulation of the recipient females. The effect of a pheromone is felt whether a person is conscious of the pheromone and they may not be aware of responding to the pheromone (Kohl, 1996). Hence the pheromones are not detected consciously, but presumably trigger the hormonal changes that mediate the menstrual cycle. Wysocki & Preti (2004) also reported on the discovery of another pheromone that affects the menstrual cycle. This pheromone however is said to increase variability among women. The male pheromones are also stated to affect the menstrual cycle. Studies have shown that exposure to male pheromones resulted in a regulation of the cycle in irregular women (Wysocki & Preti 2004). Onset of puberty has been shown to be affected by exposure to male pheromones. In a study of girls in stepfather-present homes compared with single-mother homes, the former were noted to reach maturation earlier than the latter group (Grammer, Fink, & Neave, 2004). Moods and emotions Have you ever heard of someone saying that they can smell fear coming off of a person? How does fear smell? Or maybe you have seen panic spread quite easily amongst a group of people? This may be a result of the release of pheromones and the response to them. There are pheromones that signal the flight or fight sense and these are the modulator pheromones described McClintock (Wysocki, & Preti, 2004). These pheromones are believed to affect moods and emotions with the modulation being situation- or context-dependent (Platek, Burch, & Gallup, Jr., 2001). Studies have shown that the body odor of a person changes on watching fear-induced movies compared with viewing comedy. Another study investigated the application of sweat extract from the armpits of male donors on the upper lips of females. Not sure that I would be willing to participate in this type of study! The study found that mood changed when the sweat containing application was put on the lip. Apparently the females reported feeling more relaxed and less tense! (Wysocki, & Preti, 2004) Human interaction Human interaction ranges from mother-infant bonding to kinship. Mother--infant bonding involves releaser pheromones. The attraction of infants to the breast odor of the mother and the movement in the direction of the odor is considered the only human releaser pheromone response studied (Wysocki, & Preti, 2004). Releaser pheromones are also associated with sexual attraction however this has not been fully investigated in humans. On the other hand recognition of kinship is governed by signaler pheromones. Identification of relatives and partners are said to be detectable using the olfactory system (Rikowski & Grammer, 1999). This means that you know your friends and relatives by their smell. It is stated that the odorprint of signaler pheromones is determined by genetics, although it can be modified by diet, health status and the environment. Signaler pheromones are believed to also influence choice of mate in humans. Summary Human pheromones exist and they have an impact our social and business lives even though we are probably not aware of how they do so. Physiological and behavioral changes occur as a result of transmittance of pheromones. In most instances there is an unconscious reaction to the secretion of pheromones and can probably account for the dislike that some people experience on meeting someone for the first time. This is primitive and instinctual response however human beings are complex and there may be other unconscious cues that result in the behavior experienced. How can you use this to your advantage in social and business interactions? You need to be aware that you do transmit signals based on your emotional status (fear or joy) and focus on the positive emotion in situations where you would like to be successful. For example you may be going to an interview for a role that you would really love to get however your dominant emotion is fear. Although you may be showing confidence in verbal and nonverbal cues, what are you transmitting via the pheromones being released? This same principle can be applied to sales -- whether you are advertising a product to a business prospect or yourself to a prospective mate or friend. If the recipient likes you they are more likely to associate with you. Today there are several companies selling synthetic human pheromones in the form of perfumes and colognes. They sell pheromones to help you attract a date or make more sales. Is this the case similar to the old days when charlatans moved from town to town on wagons selling potions to help cure everything from fever to preventing childbirth? Whether these synthetic pheromones work or not can only be determined by conducting sound scientific investigation. My advice here would be to heed the caveat: "Buyer beware"! References Furlow, B. The smell of love: how women rate the sexiness and pleasantness of a man's body odor hinges on how much of their genetic profile is shared. Psychology Today .29(2): 38 - 46. Grammer, K., Fink, B., & Neave. N. Human pheromones and sexual attraction. European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology. 2004. 118(2):135- 142. Herz, R. S., Beland, S. L., & Hellerstein, M. Changing ordor hedonic perception through emotional associations in humans. International Journal of Comparative Psychology. 2004. 17: 315 -- 338. Kohl, J. V. Human pheromones: Mammalian olfactory, genetic, neuronal, hormonal, and behavioral reciprocity and, human sexuality. Advances in Human Behavior and Evolution. Available from: Accessed March 20, 2009. Platek, S. M., Burch, R. L., & Gallup Jr, G. G. Sex differences in olfactory self-recognition. Physiology and Behavior. 2001. 73(44): 635-640. Rikowski, A., & Grammer, K. Human body odour, symmetry and attractiveness. Proceedings: Biological Sciences. 1999. 266 (1422): 869 -- 874. Wysocki, C. J., & Preti, G. Facts, fallacies, fears and frustrations with human pheromones. The Anatomical Record Part A. 2004. 281A: 1201 -- 1211.

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