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A fear of pheromones (revisited)

Posted on March 31, 2012 by James Kohl.

Is 40 years too long to be afraid of human pheromones?

“I should think we might fairly gauge the future of biological science, centuries ahead by estimating the time it will take to reach a complete comprehensive understanding of odor. It may not seem a profound enough problem to dominate all the life sciences, but it contains, piece by piece, all the mysteries.” Lewis Thomas (Thomas, 1980) as quoted in (Kohl & Francoeur, 1995; 2002, p. 24). See also “A Fear of Pheromones” (Thomas, 1971).

In a series of 3 experiments researchers have shown an interaction of male axillary odor with fragrance that suggests the fragrance makes human body odor more attractive. Although the exact mechanism of this interaction is not known, fragrances seem to enhance sexual attractiveness and they may effectively modulate sexual arousal and mood response of women, especially when women are in the ovulatory phase of their cycle. Also odor cues are of most importance to women in the context of partner choice and women prefer the odor of psychologically dominant men (see for review Lenochova et al., 2012)

Androstenes, like androstadienone, are chemical constituents of human axillary sweat that affect the mood, physiology and social perception of heterosexual women in both laboratory and semi-realistic settings (Berglund, Lindstrum, & Savic, 2006; Havlicek, Murray, Saxton, & Roberts, 2010; Saxton, Lyndon, Little, & Roberts, 2008). Androstenol affects levels of luteinizing hormone and mood (Preti, Wysocki, Barnhart, Sondheimer, & Leyden, 2003; Shinohara, Morofushi, Funabashi, & Kimura, 2001; Shinohara, Morofushi, Funabashi, Mitsushima, & Kimura, 2000). Androsterone is one of two primary metabolites of dehydroepiandrosterone, which is found in much higher amounts in humans than in other primates and has been linked to testosterone levels and reproductive fitness in athletes participating in competitive sports (Kohl, 2007).

Unlike androstadienone or any other androstene, the mixture of androstenol and androsterone has been shown to cause changes in women’s flirtatious behavior and in their self-reported level of attraction to the man wearing the mixture (Kohl, Kelahan & Hoffmann, unpublished). The molecular mechanisms of this interaction, which apparently involve the effect of androstenol on hormones and the affect of androsterone on behavior, are well-known across species and are modeled in: Human pheromones and food odors: epigenetic influences on the socioaffective nature of evolved behaviors.

References:

Berglund, H., Lindstrum, P., & Savic, I. (2006). Brain response to putative pheromones in lesbian women. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(21), 8269-8274.

Havlicek, J., Murray, A. K., Saxton, T. K., & Roberts, S. C. (2010). Current Issues in the Study of Androstenes in Human Chemosignaling. In G. Litwack (Ed.), Vitamins & Hormones (Vol. Volume 83, pp. 47-81): Academic Press.

Kohl, J. V. (2007). The Mind’s Eyes: Human pheromones, neuroscience, and male sexual preferences. In M. R. Kauth (Ed.), Handbook of the Evolution of Human Sexuality (pp. 313-369). Binghamton: Haworth Press.

Kohl, J. V., & Francoeur, R. T. (1995; 2002). The Scent of Eros: Mysteries of Odor in Human Sexuality. New York: Continuum Press; 2nd ed. Lincoln NE: iUniverse Press.

Lenochova, P., Vohnoutova, P., Roberts, S. C., Oberzaucher, E., Grammer, K., & Havlicek, J. (2012). Psychology of Fragrance Use: Perception of Individual Odor and Perfume Blends Reveals a Mechanism for Idiosyncratic Effects on Fragrance Choice. PLoS ONE, 7(3), e33810.

Preti, G., Wysocki, C. J., Barnhart, K. T., Sondheimer, S. J., & Leyden, J. J. (2003). Male axillary extracts contain pheromones that affect pulsatile secretion of luteinizing hormone and mood in women recipients. Biol Reprod., 68(6), 2107-2113. Epub 2003 Jan 2122.

Saxton, T. K., Lyndon, A., Little, A. C., & Roberts, S. C. (2008). Evidence that androstadienone, a putative human chemosignal, modulates women’s attributions of men’s attractiveness. Horm Behav, 14, 14.

Shinohara, K., Morofushi, M., Funabashi, T., & Kimura, F. (2001). Axillary pheromones modulate pulsatile LH secretion in humans. Neuroreport., 12(5), 893-895.

Shinohara, K., Morofushi, M., Funabashi, T., Mitsushima, D., & Kimura, F. (2000). Effects of 5alpha-androst-16-en-3alpha-ol on the pulsatile secretion of luteinizing hormone in human females. Chem Senses., 25(4), 465-467.

Thomas, L. (1971). A Fear of Pheromones. New England Journal of Medicine, 285(7), 392-393.

Thomas, L. (1980). On Smell. New England Journal of Medicine, 302(13), 731-733.

 

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James Kohl
Retired medical laboratory scientist

James Kohl




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What is the vomeronasal organ (VNO)?

The vomeronasal organ (VNO) is a cone-shaped organ in the nasal cavity, which is believed to be one of the body's receptors of pheromones. More, specifically, the VNO, which is part of the accessory olfactory system in the nose, does not respond to normal scents, but may detect odorless, barely perceptible pheromones.

Other schools of thought believe that it is not the VNO but rather cells in our main olfactory system and their affects on hormones secreted by the hypothalamus that are responsible for the affects of pheromones.

Learn more about the science behind pheromones here.

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