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Human pheromones and the fusiform fooled you area for face recognition

Posted on October 2, 2012 by James Kohl.

Brain mapping shows auto experts recognize cars like people recognize faces October 1st, 2012 in Neuroscience

Excerpt: “…we have now mapped the area in enough detail to rule out the possibility of an area exclusively devoted to facial recognition,”

My comment: The fusiform face area (FFA) has figured prominently in theories about visually perceived physically features in heterosexual attraction without addressing homosexual attraction at a time when my award-winning model, which detailed the development of male homosexual and heterosexual preferences, has been rather casually dismissed. For example: in Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation, Simon Le Vay wrote:


“This [Kohl’s] model is attractive in that it solves the “binding problem” of sexual attraction. By that I mean the problem of why all the different features of men or women (visual appearance and feel of face, body, and genitals; voice quality, smell; personality and behavior, etc.) attract people as a more or less coherent package representing one sex, rather than as an arbitrary collage of male and female characteristics. If all these characteristics come to be attractive because they were experienced in association with a male- or female-specific pheromone, then they will naturally go together even in the absence of complex genetically coded instructions.”

“Still, even in fruit flies, other sensory input besides pheromones — acoustic, tactile, and visual stimuli — play a role in sexual attraction, and sex specific responses to these stimuli appear to be innate rather than learned by association [36.]. We simply don’t know where the boundary between prespecified attraction and learned association lie in our own species, nor do we have compelling evidence for the primacy of one sense over another.”


One of the references used to support the statement about sexual attraction in the fruit fly dates back to 1974.  In that context, but nearly 40 years later, we can finally dispense with irrelevant thoughts about the FFA, which has been used to exemplify evidence for innate visual primacy in humans compared to the olfactory primacy of every other species in the world, including all the insect species. Did we not have compelling evidence for the primacy of olfaction in insect species 40 years ago?

Can we now use this new evidence to refute claims that evolved domain-specific modules are associated with the relative incentive salience of other sensory input. Olfactory/pheromonal input innately epigenetically effects intracellular signaling and stochastic gene expression in species from microbes to man. We are genetically predisposed to respond to the pheromones of other people and the genetic predisposition is also responsible for development of experience-dependent food preferences.

The research that is reported in the article linked above shows that my friends’ ability to recognize the manufacturer and model of an approaching motorcycle is a function of their visual acuity and specificity linked to experience, which is not nearly so essential to species survival compared to olfactory acuity and specificity in the recognition of a potential meal or potential mate. Motorcycle recognition can readily be a function of vision, but food and mate recognition require experience with nutrient chemicals and chemicals produced by other people that allow us to positively or negatively associate odors with our hormone responses and behavior.

In the 2012 10-page reiteration of my model, food preferences and sexual preferences are essential to species survival and are nutrient chemical-dependent and pheromone controlled. Now that we know there is no innate visual recognition of faces in the FFA, we can be more sure that the sex specific responses to acoustic, tactile, and visual stimuli that play a role in sexual attraction in invertebrate and vertebrate species are not innate. They are learned via association with olfactory/pheromonal input.

We can also be surer that expert recognition of automobiles and cars is a function of visual input alone and not dependent on olfactory/pheromonal input. If you never thought that recognizing a vehicle required a specifically isolated evolved area of the brain, you may be more intelligent than researchers who thought the FFA was required for face recognition.

The compelling evidence for the primacy of one sense over another when it comes to recognizing food, faces, and potential mates has always suggested that its a function of olfactory/pheromonal conditioning of hormone-responses. We know how olfactory/pheromonal input is directly linked from the sensory environment to epigenetic effects of nutrient chemicals and pheromones on intracellular signaling and stochastic gene expression in species with eyes and a central nervous system that adaptively evolved to quickly assess visual appeal. The visual appeal of other people is associated with the sensory input that is most important to survival: olfactory/pheromonal input, which is also essential to species survival in all other animals.

Does that surprise you? Should the new name for the fusiform face area be the fusiform fooled-you area so there is no need to change the acronym?



James Kohl
Retired medical laboratory scientist

James Kohl

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James Kohl owns, and he has published books and award-winning research journal articles about human pheromones. With colleagues he was the first to show that a mixture of human pheromones increases the flirtatious behaviors of women, and increases their level of attraction to the man wearing the mixture - during a real-life social circumstance lasting 15 minutes.

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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.

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Learn more about the science behind pheromones here.

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