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Sex, Lies, and Online Dating

Written by November 3, 2010

Safeguarding Your Love Life – Part 8

The Scent Of Love  
To help determine the role biology plays in human physical attraction, scientists have measured virtually anything they can think of in hopes of identifying key influencers.  They have devised experiments to measure the extent to which body symmetry determines sexual attraction;1 they have asked men to rate how appealing they find women’s voices at different phases of their reproductive cycle;2 they have even asked ovulating women to sniff men’s sweaty t-shirts to determine who, if any of the men, they find more attractive.3 All of these studies yielded interesting findings suggesting that biology does indeed play an important role in human sexual attraction. It is in the last area however—in the area of “scent”—and more specifically in the area of human pheromones, where scientists start to differ.

Pheromones are projected hormones – powerful behavior-altering agents secreted by individuals that are released outside of the body and which produce a change in the sexual or social behavior of other individuals of the same species.4 Pheromones have long been recognized as powerful sexual attractants in the animal kingdom. Older male elephants, for example, have been known to emanate sexual prowess through a potent combination of chemical agents that younger members of the species are not capable of producing.5 In a different study out of the Institute of Pheromone Research at Indiana University, researcher Milos Novotny showed that special molecules produced by male mice can attract females, while at the same time repel, and even anger male rivals.6 Comparable studies have identified similar phenomena in the insect world as well. Still, many researchers are not convinced that these powerful chemical agents necessarily play a role in human attraction. Evolutionary biologist Jianzhi Zhang of the University of Michigan is one such researcher.

In 2003, Zhang showed that 23 million years ago in Asia and Africa, a gene that existed among primates considered to be human ancestors mutated and allowed the primates to see color. This mutation permitted the male primates to notice that a female’s buttocks turned bright red when she was ready to copulate. That change, Zhang postulates, rendered the role of pheromones virtually obsolete. According to his theory, pheromones were simply superseded. "With the development of a sexual color scheme, you don’t need the pheromone sensitivity to sense whether a female monkey is ready to mate," Zhang said. "It’s advantageous to use visual cues rather than pheromones because they can be seen from a distance."7 Still, others believe powerful olfactory agents do play an important role in human attraction – not the least of which are the cosmetic and perfume industries. These monolithic commercial players continue to bet millions of dollars annually on synthetic varieties of the so-called chemical attractants, which are subsequently marketed heavily with romantic and sexual overtones.

While the debate continues, one fact remains irrefutable. Scent definitely plays a prominent part in how we perceive ourselves, and in our overall notions of appeal. No one contests the fact that olfactory sensitivity and odors play significant roles in our preferences and predilections. From food, to flowers, to carpet freshener– smell matters.  And nowhere are we more selective about it than when it comes to our bodies.  Walk into the body soap or shampoo isle at any department store and you will be hard pressed not to find at least one person sniffing an open bottle of one of these products before deciding whether to add it to their purchase. Venture into the cosmetics department of a major retailer, and dodge the perfume spritzing reps if you can manage it. The fragrance business is a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide. Its annual sales add up anywhere from 25 to 30 billion dollars. And that is just in the United States.8

So why are we so obsessed with how we smell?  Is it really just about pleasantness, or is there more to it? Is there such a thing as a love potion? And when it comes to physical attraction, do invisible and imperceptible pheromones exert influence over our choices– can they make us irresistible, or others more appealing?

To find out, The TV news magazine 20/20 decided to conduct a mini experiment. To that end they recruited two sets of identical twins, one set female, and the other male. They then gave each of the four subjects a bottle of odorless, colorless liquid they identified as pheromones. The participants were instructed to apply the liquid. Then the crew sent the couples on an evening of speed dating to see how they would fare.  To help measure any differences, only one member of each set of twins actually received real pheromones. None of the participants, however, knew which of the four was wearing the real thing and who had received a placebo. Interestingly, one participant noted that the mere possibility that he might be wearing something that could work in his favor made him feel optimistic.

So, what happened—was there a difference in the attraction ratio of the twins, and did the pheromones have an impact? To find out, watch the video below.  The results are intriguing. In the meantime Spokeo reminds you, be safe.  Before you go out with anyone, always learn whatever you can about the person first.  One simple step you can take is to research your date online with a people-search engine like Spokeo. Knowing more about a potential date can go a long way to help support a safe dating experience.
1 http://www.livescience.com/strangenews/051221_symmetry_nature.html 2 http://dsc.discovery.com/videos/science-of-sex-appeal-sexy-secretions/ 3 http://dsc.discovery.com/videos/science-of-sex-appeal-attractive-man-funk.html 4 http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=12896 5 http://www.livescience.com/animalworld/051222_elephant_scents.html 6 http://www.springerlink.com/content/v576p65474rh4700/ 7 http://www.livescience.com/health/060213_attraction_rules.html 8 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/20/business/20perfume.html?pagewanted=all


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