Tears and fears of pheromones
January 6, 2011 | JV Khol
Results that conclusively demonstrate there are chemosignals in human tears make me wonder why the term chemosignals is used. What’s been demonstrated is the presence of human pheromones. What are the researchers and journalists afraid of? I ask because in 1971 Lewis Thomas named this fear.
A Fear of Pheromones: first paragraph “What are we going to do if it turns out that we have pheromones? What on earth would we be doing with such things? With the richness of speech, and all our new devices for communication, why would we want to release odors into the air to convey information about anything? We can send notes, telephone, whisper cryptic invitations, announce the giving of parties, even bounce words off the moon and make them carom around the planets. Why a gas, or droplets of moisture made to be deposited on fenceposts?”
His questions toyed with us then, but many people seem to now have taken this “fear” to heart. And some question whether mammalian pheromones exist:
“…robust pheromonal responses have proved difficult to identify in mammals. Indeed, mammalian behavioral responses are so strongly modulated by context and learning that this has led some investigators to question whether mammalian pheromones really exist.”
Others are too cautious to use the term pheromones, even though chemicals like androstenes are obviously human pheromones.
“…androstenes sound very much like pheromones, according to almost any definition. Despite this, we remain cautious about this conclusion and prefer to use the term chemosignal (or even semiochemical).”
Journalists and researchers a like don’t want to invite the fear of the general public, as you can read in every one the articles about the latest findings on human pheromones. Whoops, did I say human pheromones? In humans, they’re chemosignals, aren’t they?
Before someone tries to remind me that the definition of the term pheromones was intended for use in insects, here’s the definition: ”Pheromones are defined as substances which are secreted to the outside by an individual and received by a second individual of the same species, in which they release a specific reaction, for example, a definite behavior, or a developmental process.” Karlson and Luscher, 1959.
What people seem to be missing is that our knowledge of molecular biology now tells us that pheromones release specific reactions like definite behaviors because pheromones effect developmental processes. The behaviors associated with pheromone-driven changes in levels of hormones like testosterone are not uniquely determined in an invariant way by single or small sets of chemical stimuli. The behaviors are determined by the context in which the pheromones are experienced. Our hormone response, during the development of our behaviors is as much a determinant of our future behavior as it is in other animals. The hormone response and our behavior is determined by pheromones. So, why not call human pheromones what they are? They’re pheromones. You’re sorry if that frightens you.