Behavior is receptor-mediated

June 15, 2014 | James Kohl

Mechanism explains complex brain wiring

Excerpt: “How neurons are created and integrate with each other is one of biology’s greatest riddles.”

My comment: The biology of behavior is receptor-mediated. If you can convince people it is not receptor-mediated, you can probably convince them that the different morphological and behavioral phenotypes of species from microbes to man somehow evolved via mutations and natural selection. However, without the nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled de novo creation of olfactory receptor genes, ecological variation could not possibly result in the ecological adaptations some people think are the result of mutation-driven evolution.

Yesterday, the arch-enemy of scientific pursuits, Jay R. Feireman, who is moderator of ISHE, the International Society of Human Ethology’s yahoo discussion group, decided to end my participation unless I answered a question that arose during discussion of ecological (diet-driven) niche construction. I attempted to address nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled ecological niche construction in a thread about wolves.

I wrote (and Feierman edited …)

Excerpt: Emerging evidence suggests that ecological heterogeneity across space can influence the genetic structure of populations, including that of long-distance dispersers such as large carnivores.

My comment: Indeed, the emerging evidence actually refutes all the neo-Darwinian nonsense of population genetics . . . etc., etc.

Feierman then wrote[MODERATOR NOTE: I’m not going to post more from Kohl until he answers the very direct and simple question posed to him by anon, which is whether he (Kohl) believes that RNA splicing can change DNA.]

I had written:  Serious scientists understand how miRNA processing uses alternative splicing to manipulate the levels of different clustered intronic miRNAs and have specifically shown how miRNAs of the miR-106b-25 cluster, which are involved in the inhibition of several apoptotic pathways, can be differentially expressed. Inhibiting apoptosis is one way to enable the experience-dependent de novo creation of olfactory receptor genes and olfactory receptor neurons.

This was misrepresented by an anonymous participant who wrote: “This is about your insistence that splicing creates new genes.”

In my detailed model: Nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled ecological adaptations: from atoms to ecosystems, I covered every aspect of de novo creation of olfactory receptor genes that I could imagine, but had not yet read this article, which established the fact that de novo gene creation was experience dependent. See:

Odor memories regulate olfactory receptor expression in the sensory periphery

Excerpt 1)  “…the molecular basis of odor detection in the periphery of the olfactory system changes with experience…”

Excerpt 2) “…the mechanism underlying this plasticity might involve non-coding RNAs such as micro-RNAs predicted to target Or151 [miR-97-1, miR-985, miR-6002, miR-6039 and miR-6058 (Chen et al., 2010; Liu et al., 2012; A.S. Cristino, personal observation)]. This potential micro-RNA activity might be linked to molecular events associated with synaptic changes in the feedback circuit.”

My comment: It is not likely to become clearer that conserved molecular mechanisms enable the sensing of nutrients and their metabolism to species-specific pheromones that control the physiology of reproduction. The involvement of the nutrient-dependent microRNA/messenger RNA balance is not likely to become clearer.

However, until evolutionary theorists admit that mutations, which perturb protein folding, cannot also create functional new genes in the context of biophysically-constrained intercellular signaling that links the epigenetic landscape to the physical landscape of DNA via de novo gene creation, no scientific progress can be made that might otherwise make sense of how ecological variation results in ecological adaptations. The ecological adaptations will be offered to others as examples of evolution.

For comparison, see our award-winning 2001 review: Human pheromones: integrating neuroendocrinology and ethology and note this comment from the president of the International Society for Physiological Sciences: “If you learnt evolutionary biology and genetics a decade or more ago you need to be aware that those debates have moved on very considerably, as has the experimental and field work on which they are based.

Evolutionary theorists, and other social scientists who have failed to support their ideas with experimental evidence of biologically-based cause and effect can only continue to link meaningless data that they meaningfully interpret to mutations, natural selection, and evolution. That is precisely what several members of ISHE will soon be doing, as evidenced by the presentations by human ethologists on olfaction and behavior, which are scheduled during a forthcoming conference. Keep in mind that without the link from odors to the de novo creation of olfactory receptor genes, each of these presentations will be framed in the context the theories touted at the time neo-Darwinism was invented by population geneticists. The presentations will not accurately represent what is currently known about how ecological variation enables ecological adaptations via the creation of new genes. The presentations will incorporate only the knowledge that we integrated into our 2001 review, nothing new.

See these abstracts of accepted papers for the 2014 Belem conference . Specifically, here are the abstracts that will be presented in this symposium:

The scented ape: communication, perception and application

Jan Havlicek

Last modified: 2014-06-02


Humans are traditionally depicted as a microsmatic species, suggesting that olfaction plays a minor role in various areas of our lives. However, humans emit numerous aromatic compounds from their bodies and adorn both themselves and their environment with extrinsically sourced aromatic compounds. The last two decades have witnessed rapidly growing interest in the possibility that the outcome of various social interactions are affected by odour. The goal of this symposium is to highlight several areas of human chemical communication and link them to the major theoretical frameworks such sexual selection theory, evolution of signalling or dual inheritance theory. It will include presentations and debate on the social significance of major axillary constituents (Roberts), communication of affective states through body odours (Fialová), effect of odours on formation of first impressions (Sorokowska), interaction between body odour and perfume (Havlíček), sex differences in odour perception (Grammer) and psychological effects of scented environments (Obrerzaucher). Studies into human semiochemistry are inherently transdisciplinary including analytical chemistry, microbiology and various branches of psychology which pose a serious challenge to researchers to understand this vast complexity. We therefore also aim to briefly introduce methods used in the relevant fields. A panel discussion following the main talks will focus on the conceptual and theoretical aspects related to chemical communication and its promise for stimulating further ethological inquiry.


Jan Havlíček, Ph.D, e-mail:, Charles University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology, Viničná 7, 128 44, Praha 2, Czech Republic


S. Craig Roberts, Ph.D, e-mail:, University of Stirling, School of Natural Sciences, Stirling, FK9 4BN, UK

Jitka Fialová, M.A., e-mail:, Charles University, Faculty of Science, Department of Philosophy and History of Science, Viničná 7, 128 44, Praha 2, Czech Republic

Agnieszka Sorokowska, M.A.,, University of Wroclaw, Institute of Psychology, ul. Brzozowa 7a/11; 52-200 Wysoka, Poland

Karl Grammer, Prof., e-mail:, University ofVienna, Department of Anthropology, AltanStrasse 14, A-1090, Vienna, Austria

Elisabeth Oberzaucher, Ph.D, e-mail:, University of Klagenfurt, InterdisciplinaryResearch Center for Technology, Work and Culture, Klagenfurt, Austria

Androstenes in human axillary odour reveal mate availability, not mate quality

S. Craig Roberts, Jan Christensen, Alice Murray, Jan Havlicek, Patriziad’Ettorre

Body odour influences human mate preferences, but we do not know the chemical basis of such effects. However, one possible candidate is the family of 16-androstene compounds, which are known to produce physiological and behavioural effects in humans, as well as in other mammals. In our study, we tested whether individual variation in expression of androstene compounds predicts variation in other phenotypic indicator traits, but found no evidence that they predict mate quality. However, individual odour profiles were associated with mated status, with odours comprising relatively high proportions of androstenols and androstenones and low proportions of androstadienones being characteristic of unpartnered men. In perceptual tests, axillary odours characteristic of unpartnered men were preferred over odours characteristic of partnered men, and artificial mixtures mimicking odour of unpartnered men induced more proceptive responses in women. Our results suggest that androstenes reveal mating relevant cues of a different kind to that previously believed.

Perception of emotion-related body odours in humans

Jitka Fialová and Jan Havlíček

Many socially living species are able to perceive chemical cues to the emotional states of their conspecifics. Similarly, it was shown that humans are to some extent able to recognize, distinguish and judge hedonic quality of odours of other individuals who have been experiencing various affective states predominantly in fear, happy or stressful contexts. On the other hand, often it is difficult to identify specific affective contexts in which the odour has been sampled. Furthermore, in the following studies it was found that exposure to odour samples collected in stressful situations affect cognitive functioning and behaviour (e. g., startle response and level of anxiety increase, higher risk-taking behaviour or sensory bias in the perception of another person) of people exposed to such odours, although individuals may not be aware of what the odour refers to or may be perceived on subliminal level. This is further supported by the research into the changes in the brain activity following perception of odours sampled in various affective states. Moreover, among the affective states which may influence the body odour belongs also emotions accompanying competition, more specifically, the emotions connected to winning or losing (for instance, pride, sadness etc.). The main aim of this paper is to review the current body of evidence about perception of emotion-related body odours in humans and interpret the findings of the relevant studies, point out the shortcomings in the present research (i. e., using verbal labels of the emotional states, separating and defining particular emotional states) and suggest new avenues to carry on in this promising and fruitful area(e.g. broaden the set of studied affective states and psychophysical responses of individuals exposed to these emotion-related body odours).

The perfume-body odour complex: An insightful model for culture-gene coevolution?

Jan Havlíček and S. Craig Roberts

Olfaction is involved in various human social interactions, ranging from mother-offspring attachment to mate choice decisions. Psychological processes underlying such interactions are thought to be shaped by evolution. However, across many human cultures, individuals tend to manipulate their body odour by means of various fragrances and these may significantly affect the outcome of social encounters in a context-specific fashion. Here we employ the framework of dual-inheritance theory, which advocates that cultural practices should be incorporated into the analysis of evolution of human behaviour, to explore cultural means of olfactory signalling such as ethnic and status markers. Further, we review studies showing that perfumes interact with body odour in an individual fashion and that people tend to choose perfumes according to their genetic make-up. This indicates that biologically evolved chemical signalling might operate in concert with some cultural human practices. Finally, we propose two scenarios: i) how culturally based preferences and use of perfume might impact gene frequencies in individual populations, and ii) how evolved cognitive biases might affect selection of scents that are appropriate for body adornments. This, in our view, makes the perfume-body odour complex a potentially insightful model for culture-gene coevolution.

Does personality smell? An overview.

Agnieszka Sorokowska

People are able to assess some personality traits of others based on videotaped behavior, short interaction or a photograph. In a series of studies, we investigated the relationship between body odor and the Big Five personality dimensions and dominance (the correlations between scent ratings and the self-assessed personality dimensions). In Study I, sixty odor samples were assessed by 20 raters each. In Study II, we compared the accuracy of assessments performed by 150 observers on the basis of facial images and body odor of 50 individuals and we analyzed whether attractiveness of targets influenced the accuracy. In Study III, we investigated whether personality traits might be recognized using olfactory cues in contexts other than male–female interactions. 75 children and 75 young adults rated the personality traits of 50 unknown individuals based on their body odor. In Study IV, we tested differences between assessments based on natural body odor and assessments based on smell of people who were allowed to use any cosmetics based on their daily routine.100 observers assessed samples of odors of 113 odor donors (every odor donor provided two samples).The main finding of Study I was that in several personality traits, the correlation between self-assessed personality of odor donors and judgments based on their body odor (T-shirt samples) was above a chance level. The correlations were strongest for extraversion (.36), neuroticism (.34) and dominance (.29). In Study II, naive observers assessed neuroticism and dominance at above-chance levels based on samples of body odor, and they assessed extraversion (and in some cases, neuroticism) at above-chance levels based on either facial images alone or body odor and facial images presented together. In addition, facial and body odor attractiveness predicted the targets’ personalities and the assessments of their personalities. The results of this study show that the accuracy of personality assessment changes when judges assess different types of stimuli. Interestingly, the assessments of extraversion based on axillary cotton pads were less accurate than the assessments based on T-shirts in Study I. The results of Study III show that both children and adults assess neuroticism relatively accurately, whereas only adults congruently assessed dominance. The most important findings of Study IV were that correlations with self-rated neuroticism were more congruent when raters assessed natural body odor samples than in condition with use of cosmetics. Ratings of dominance were congruent in both cases, and assessments of extraversion were incongruent in both parts of this study. This suggests that cosmetics might change the impression about personality conveyed by body odor. In summary, the results of all presented studies suggest that olfaction supplements visual and auditory cues throughout our whole lives, contributing to the formation of the first impression and accuracy of certain personality traits judgements.

Situated Communication – Scented Environments

Elisabeth Oberzaucher & Susanne Schmehl

Multimodal communication integrates communicative tokens exchanged among communicators on different levels of complexity and speed, and through different sensory channels. The meaning attributed to these communicative tokens is affected by the interaction among these tokens. The word ‘yes’, for example, can adopt a large number of different meanings modulated by e.g. voice parameters, facial and bodily expressions that accompany it. Communicative tokens can convey different meanings depending on who produces them and where. The behaviour settings theory (Barker 1968) emphasises the importance of situatedness of behaviour, i.e. the specific environment where behaviour is shown. Unfortunately, communication research was not strongly affected by this idea.

Olfaction might be the communication channel that is affected most by environmental properties: Environmental scents can lead to habituation increasing the threshold for perception. More importantly, odorous molecules might have interactive effects, thus changing the hedonic value, or even the attributed meaning.

Scent design is of increasing interest for various businesses, aiming to affect the behaviour of people and customers. Scents are used to create brand identities, to attract customers, and to camouflage undesired odours. We will discuss the potential of scents in affecting human behaviour on a subconscious level and highlight the limitations of scent applications.

Ina Maria Rennisch, Julia Ramesmayer, Anna Schaman, Karl Grammer

Does the odor of the Maillard reaction lure men to the barbecue? SFA

Whenever a barbecue is lighted it is surrounded by men. Although this seems like common knowledge, very little is known about what is causing this phenomenon. The aim of this study is to gain insight into this topic, if it has a social cause or is induced by evolutionary reasons. We hypothesized that the preference of men handling the barbecue is due to their higher attraction to the typical volatile compounds originating from the Maillard reaction (fried meat). 114 subjects (58 men, 56 women) were asked to describe their feelings when smelling scents of different barbecued meat by rating the intensity of 25 emotional states via the Emotion and Odor Scale (EOS). Additionally, the subjects took a medical olfactory test, consisting of a threshold, discrimination and identification test and were asked about their barbecue habits. The EOS data were evaluated with a factor analysis, which results in five factors of hedonism. The factor values for the different odors enable an analysis of which sex is more attracted by the scent of barbecued meat. We could identify several volatile compounds, which emerge from frying meat which are more appreciated by men than women, although men and women report eating grilled food with equal frequency. In general, men declare themselves of handling the barbecue more often. Men also prefer grilled meat to every other barbecued food, whereas women do not specify which grilled food they like the best. This study emphasizes that men are in charge whenever a grill is involved in food preparation, and this behavior might be triggered by the volatile compounds of fried meat.



James Vaughn Kohl

James Vaughn Kohl

James Vaughn Kohl was the first to accurately conceptualize human pheromones, and began presenting his findings to the scientific community in 1992. He continues to present to, and publish for, diverse scientific and lay audiences, while constantly monitoring the scientific presses for new information that is relevant to the development of his initial and ongoing conceptualization of human pheromones.