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Pheromones and detectable odors

Posted on August 1, 2011 by James Kohl.

Sensitivity to the chemicals in food odors and social odors (our pheromones) varies among individuals. Some of the variation is genetic; some is due to individual experiences with odors from different foods or from different people. When concentrations of an odor increase or repeated exposure results in extreme sensitivity to an odor associated either with food or other people, the odor can leave a lasting unpleasant impression. That’s why a few people may not like an odor they associate with the pheromones contained in pheromone-enhanced products. Women raised on farms exemplify this fact; they almost invariably report a negative odor they associated with pheromones in products that contain any of the androstenes. Androstenone, is almost always offensive, and perceived as a urinous odor. But other androstenes: androstadienone, androstenol, and — to a lesser extent — even androsterone can smell urinous to some women, and even to some men. It is not possible to formulate any human pheromone-enhanced product that will appeal to everyone, just as not all foods appeal to everyone.  However, just as we can add spices to food to make some food more appealing, we can add human pheromones to products that make people more appealing to the vast majority of people in their social environment. That’s how pheromones enhance your social experiences, and it’s also how spices enhance your dining experiences.

Partial Bibliography

Dorries, K.M., Schmidt, H.J., Beauchamp, G.K., & Wysocki, C.J. (1989) Changes in sensitivity to the odor of androstenone during adolescence. Developmental Psychobiology, 22, 5, 423‑435.

Doty, R.L. (1975) An examination of relationships between the pleasantness, intensity, and concentration of 10 odorous stimuli. Percept Psychophys, 17,, 492‑496.

Voznessenskaya, V.V., Feoktistova, N.U., & Wysocki, C.J. (1998) Sexually dimorphic sensitivity to the odorant androstenone (AND) in genetically inbred strains of mice that are sensitive or insensitive to AND. Chemical Senses, 23, 5, abstract.

Wang, H.W., Wysocki, C.J., & Gold, G.H. (1993) Induction of olfactory receptor sensitivity in mice. Science, 260 (May 14), (5110), 998‑1000.

Wysocki, C.J., & Beauchamp, G.K. (1984) Ability to smell androstenone is genetically determined. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA, 81, 4899‑4902.

Wysocki, C.J., Beauchamp, G.K., Schmidt, H.L., & Dorries, K.M. (1987) Changes in olfactory sensitivity to androstenone with age and experience (abstract) Chemical Senses, 12, 710.

Wysocki, C.J., Dorries, K.M., & Beauchamp, G.K. (1989) Ability to perceive androstenone can be acquired by ostensibly anosmic people. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA, 86, 20, 7976‑7978.

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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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