The importance of smell for women

February 27, 2014 | James Kohl

Sex differences in response to physical and social factors involved in human mate selection: The importance of smell for women

Abstract: A survey study examining the relative importance of various social and physical traits in heterosexual attraction was conducted. Data from 198 male and female heterosexual college students revealed that women ranked body odor as more important for attraction than “looks” or any social factor except “pleasantness.” Moreover, in contrast to response to fragrance use, liking someone’s natural body odor was the most influential olfactory variable for sexual interest for both men and women. Men rated a woman’s good looks as most desirable and as more important than any other factor except pleasantness. Sex differences in the relative ranking of several social factors were consistent with prior research.

Cited in: The Relationship Between Oral Contraceptive Use and Sensitivity to Olfactory Stimuli 

Excerpt 1: “Previous work has found that women rate a man’s scent as a particularly important factor in selecting a potential mate—of greater importance than a man’s physical appearance and voice, as well as many other factors, such as how many friends he has or how much money he earns (Herz & Inzlicht, 2002).”

Excerpt 2: “In the present study, hormonal status was found only to affect olfactory sensitivity to the social odors, musk, androsterone and androstenone.”

[The authors thank Dr. Frank McAndrew and Dr. Esther Penick for their comments on a previous draft of this manuscript. We would also like to thank James V. Kohl for graciously providing the androstenone and androsterone for use in this study.]


Results from a study of androstenol and androsterone are reported here, which links to a presentation by James V. Kohl of experiments performed by by Linda Kelahan under the professorship of Dr. Heather Hoffmann

Human pheromones, epigenetics, physiology, and the development of animal behavior

Abstract: Androsterone, as used here, smells like fresh sweat. It is an individual human male-specific and somewhat primate-specific part of a mixture of axillary chemical secretions that contain androstenol, which influences levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) and mood in women. LH is a hormonal measure of diet-dependent sexual maturity and fertility, which is influenced by mammalian pheromones. Mammalian conditioning paradigms suggest that androstenol conditions hormonal effects in females, which may be unconsciously associated with behavioral affects of androsterone in women. We evaluated individual video-taped fifteen-minute interactions of fourteen women with fertile phase levels of LH during a cooperative task. During the task, our male accomplice wore either a standardized androstenol / androsterone mixture diluted in propylene glycol, or just the diluent — with sandalwood odor added to keep him blind to his condition. When he was wearing the mixture compared to when he wore the diluent, women were more likely to make eye contact (t(12) = 3.43, p = .01; IRR: r = .964, p = .01). They also laughed more (t(12) = 5.20, p <.01; IRR: r = .810, p = .01),  and they subsequently rated themselves as being more attracted to him  (t(12) = 2.786, p = .016). Our results combine the known effects of androstenol on LH and on mood with a likely behavioral affect of androsterone. They also address contrarian opinions and extend to human females a eusocial insect model for the epigenetic effects of diet and of pheromones on hormone-mediated gene expression during behavioral development. Our mixture characterizes species-specific human pheromones, their epigenetic effects on physiology, and their affect on behavior. Our results are consistent with a validated, unaltered, decades-old, across-species concept of pheromones.

Female Perception of Male Body Odor

Abstract: Olfaction is one of the most crucial forms of communication among nonhuman animals. Historically, olfaction has been perceived as being of limited importance for humans, but recent research has documented that not only do humans have sensitive olfactory abilities, but also odors have the potential to influence our physiology and behavior. This chapter reviews research on olfactory communication among humans, focusing on the effects of male bodily odors on female physiology and behavior. The process of body odor production and the detection of olfactory signals are reviewed, focusing on potential sex differences in these abilities. The effects of male body odors on female physiological and behavioral effects of body odors are considered. Finally, with specific regard to female mate choice, evidence regarding the influence of the major histocompatibility complex and fluctuating asymmetry on male olfactory cues is reviewed.



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.