Pheremones could hold clues to human attraction

Natural smells could determine compatible mate

Patricia Yadao, Artistic Editor

The air may reek of romance and lovey dovey intentions on Valentine’s Day, as love might be metaphorically in the air. But scientists have questioned whether love — or particularly sexual attraction — is quite literally in the air, in the form of chemicals called pheromones.

What is it that attracts people to each other? Nice eyes? Symmetry of the face? Body scent?

“Just something about the hair,” junior Jober Camangian said. “I like the messy bedhead look on a girl because it says a lot personality-wise.”

“I’d be way more attracted to a guy who smells like Old Spice than a guy who smells like fancy colognes because the smell is way too strong,” sophomore Kyra Chhiu-Lim said.

The power of attraction actually lies behind the science of these airborne molecules which trigger behavioral changes in animals within the same species, such as potent aphrodisiacs like androstenone and androstenol found in the saliva of male boars. In the animal kingdom, if a fertile female detects the presence of the molecules she will ultimately skip the dating phase and present her rear end to the male as mate material.

Scientists claim that humans, like wild animals, live in an olfactory world where pheromones play an essential role in a person’s primitive sense of mate selection.

“I think a lot of how we are attracted to somebody might seem superficial in the sense when you might look at somebody who is beautiful and think that, but there are a lot of other subtle signs such as even mannerisms, just little things,” chemistry teacher Steve Meredith said. “And you might not be able to consciously put your finger on it but you’ll know when they smell a certain way.”

In one study, singles use their sense of smell to sniff out a genetically compatible mate in the new dating craze which requires them to take a whiff of anonymous t-shirts which attendees have slept in the night before. When asked to rate the odors, people preferred a partner whose DNA was unlike their own — nature’s way of matchmaking a couple who has a high possibility of producing an offspring with a strong immune system.

Pheromones are odorless and invisible to the human eye, yet receptors located in the nose and the mouth distinguish these chemical signals. Scientists say pheromones send signals that are not usually picked up by other senses — including a person’s moods, sexual orientation and even genetic makeup.

In another study, gay men handed anonymous samples of sweat favored the scent of gay men, while straight men preferred the scent of the opposite sex.

Often, chemicals in secreted sweat cue adults if the perspiration of another individual is due to anxiety or not. Human perception correlates to how a person uses their olfactory systems to become aware of one another to communicate pheremonally.

But, despite these anecdotal studies, no conclusive evidence has confirmed that humans actually have pheromones. The evolution of pheromones has yet to be discovered since recent pheromone research has yet to be perfected in unlocking the knowledge of the “sixth sense.”

Since pheromones are believed to be secret weapons for attracting mates, marketers have developed synthesized potions aimed at consumers who want to increase their sexual attractiveness. Advertised products claim to transform the wearer to “Attract Men Instantly!” and “Be a Babe Magnet.”

“I think we are so into fashion we’ve now gotten into a lot of different ways to cover our smells that some of the stuff in perfumes and fragrances we use could be attractive but I think they are acting like they are trying to give us pheromones,” Meredith said. “We tend to want to mask a little bit of our natural smells and maybe that actually hurts our ability to pick up on pheromones because they are disguised.”

For decades, researchers and fragrance companies have been hoping to concoct the precise chemicals for a human sex pheromone. However, many factors are in play and the search is not so simple.

“Our responses to odors are confounded by other sensory inputs like sight and sound, and past experiences, learning, context — and not to mention laws,” George Preti of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia said on the “Smithsonian.”

“I have this thing about pheromones that the history of love started with the history of smell but we maybe lost our way, but that doesn’t mean it is not out there somewhere,” Meredith said.

The existence of pheromones is still unproven among scientists. Even though some scientists have hypothesized that synthesized pheromones work, many argue that there are multiple sources of attraction.

“We use all sorts of cues,” biologist Dr. Stuart Firestein at Columbia University said, on the ABC News site. “A pheromone alone is unlikely to do it. It’s part of a whole package.”