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Are Pheromones a Secret Weapon for Dating?

20/20 Puts Love Potions To the Test
December 9, 2005 10PM EST
copyright, 2005. ABC Network News

The following content is part of the segment transcript; excerpted from full program

Dec. 9, 2005 — Transcript as follows


BARBARA WALTERS (ABC NEWS)
Good evening. I'm Barbara Walters.
JOHN STOSSEL (ABC NEWS)
I'm John Stossel.

ELIZABETH VARGAS (ABC NEWS)
And I'm Elizabeth Vargas. And this is "20/20.”

ANNOUNCER
Want to attract the opposite sex?

KATHLEEN (PARTICIPANT)
I just would love to have a boyfriend for Christmas this year.

ANNOUNCER
Maybe you need a dab of pheromones, a secret ingredient that some say makes you irresistible. Watch our experiment and see if it's too good to be true.

[GRAPHICS: TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE?]

ANNOUNCER
When "20/20" returns, all she wants for Christmas is someone to love.

KATHLEEN (PARTICIPANT)
When I go home to my family's for Christmas, everyone's married with kids except me.

ANNOUNCER
Can this secret love potion help attract a mate? Watch our experiment, next.

ELIZABETH VARGAS (ABC NEWS)
Well, are you looking for love and failing to find it? In the past, retailers have sold love potions that claim to attract the opposite sex, even though none of it's been proven to work. So we were curious about the new batch of potions with the secret ingredient pheromones. They're in some of the new Christmas fragrances, but do they work? Bill Ritter did a little experiment to see if they're too good to be true.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) They are identical twins, 23-year-olds Sarah and Bridget. They're getting ready to go out to answer a question. Can you make yourself more attractive just by using an over-the-counter chemical that's peddled as something of a love potion? Another set of twins is also helping us, 25-year-olds Dave and Paul. They check their hair and put on some scent that we've given them. Both sets of twins meet up later and head to their final destination, a bar in downtown New York City.

EMCEE (FEMALE)
Welcome to New York easy dates speed dating event.

PARTICIPANT (FEMALE)
Is this your first time doing this?

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) The twins have volunteered to participant in a “20/20” experiment, a speed dating experiment to help us find out if these chemicals called pheromones actually work.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(OC) Pheromones are natural and odorless. Many animals secrete them to attract mates. But pheromones are also synthesized and marketed for humans. And if you believe the package label, they enhance sexual attractiveness. Now, pheromones have been around for years, but now new studies and new claims make pheromones hotter than ever.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) Paris Hilton knows they're hot. She added them to her latest perfume and leading perfume manufacturers are now pouring big bucks into pheromone research. But the debate remains, do pheromones really work or is this all just hype?

WINNIFRED CUTLER (click for bio) of ATHENA INSTITUTE
I think our product is the only product that has any proof behind its claims.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) Biologist Winifred Cutler is perhaps the nation's leading pheromone champion. She claims her pheromones work for 75% of the people who use them. The price for 1/6 of an ounce of her pheromones, sold through a company she calls the Athena Institute, is $100.

WINNIFRED CUTLER (ATHENA INSTITUTE)
Our pheromones are sexual attractants. They do make the wearers more sexually attractive. That's very clear.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) Well, maybe not that clear. Some scientists remain skeptical that human pheromones even exist.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(OC) You would say, we just don't know.

DOCTOR STUART FIRESTEIN (COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY)
Maybe just the idea of knowing that you're wearing the stuff will help. Certainly there's always going to be a strong placebo effect.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) Dr. Stuart Firestein studies the science of smell at Columbia University. He says even if synthesized pheromones do work, they're not likely to create an attraction all by themselves.

DOCTOR STUART FIRESTEIN (COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY)
We use all sorts of cues. And that certainly a pheromone alone is unlikely in my opinion to do it. It's part of a whole package.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) And that's where our identical twins come in. Because with them, the whole package is the same. What happens to one should happen to the other.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(OC) So what do you expect to happen tonight?

PARTICIPANT (MALE)
In the back of your head, you know, you're thinking, if this stuff really works, then, you know...

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(OC) Right, I'm wearing the secret formula.

PARTICIPANT (MALE)
Exactly. Like, nobody else has this, you know.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) For our experiment, we gave all the twins a scent, but only one twin in each set got the scent with Dr. Cutler's pheromones mixed in. And we didn't tell them who had the secret weapon.

EMCEE (FEMALE)
Gentlemen, when I ring this bell every five minutes, you're going to rotate one table up.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) Ten different dates each one lasting just five minutes.

EMCEE (FEMALE)
Okay, gentlemen, it's time to rotate.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) Would the pheromones make a difference?

EMCEE (FEMALE)
This is your final date.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) At the end of the night, we tallied the results. Of the ten dates, nine men wanted to see Sarah again. But Bridget attracted just five. As for the male twins, Dave got ten women interested in him. Paul had only six. So who was wearing the pheromones?

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(OC) Sarah and Dave, the two who scored better. Oh, yeah. I know what you're thinking. Why would attractive 20-somethings need pheromones? After all, it's those of us who are no longer in our 20's who could probably use a little help.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) And exactly what role might pheromones play in a world where "Desperate Housewives" no longer settle for middle-aged dowdiness?

WINNIFRED CUTLER (ATHENA INSTITUTE)
Women in their 40's are not excreting the same level of pheromones they might have been when they were in their 20's or their 30's. And for those women, adding the pheromone to their perfume can be just the kick that restores some of what they thought they had lost.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) So to see if pheromones work on middle-aged women, we enlisted the help of Kathleen and Lisa Ann, both over 40, both still single. Lisa Ann is a newspaper reporter and she was excited to find out if this would work.

LISA ANN (PARTICIPANT)
I do get attention, and I do have some dates. But I do not have a committed relationship, which I would like to have.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) Kathleen calls herself New York's lady barber. She says she's never had any trouble meeting men, but...

KATHLEEN (PARTICIPANT)
I'm one of eight kids and when I go home to my family's for Christmas, everyone's married with kids except me. I just would love to have a boyfriend for Christmas this year. Now see, I'm going to cry. This is so pathetic.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) So Kathleen and Lisa Ann agreed to wear the pheromone every day and keep a video diary.

KATHLEEN (PARTICIPANT)
Hi, this is Kathleen reporting for pheromone duty. I'm getting lots more attention on the street, so I have to assume that the pheromones are working.

LISA ANN (PARTICIPANT)
I'm wondering if I'm seeing any changes. Only subtle so far. I don't have men falling over me yet.

KATHLEEN (PARTICIPANT)
Crossing Second Avenue this evening, three guys, three friends, walking abreast crossing the avenue said, oh, my god, you are so beautiful.

LISA ANN (PARTICIPANT)
I'm still not noticing a whole lot of action.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) Lisa Ann was trying. She even learned to tango, maybe the sexiest dance ever invented. But she stayed mostly on the sidelines. One month into the experiment, Kathleen and Lisa Ann got together to compare notes. Kathleen was dating three to four times a week, more than ever.

KATHLEEN (PARTICIPANT)
He said what are you doing Saturday? I said I have no plans. He said you do now.

LISA ANN (PARTICIPANT)
So the work part of my life is good. The dating part of my life can use some improvement.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) We'll check back with Lisa Ann and Kathleen after another month has passed. But while we were reporting the story, we discovered another kind of pheromone. This one isn't so much about sex as it is about sales.

DOCTOR PETER PUGLESE (DERMATOLOGIST)
The women and men who use it, they feel more confident.

JIM AVILA (ABC NEWS)
(VO) Dr. Peter Puglese is a dermatologist and a former colleague of Dr. Winifred Cutler's. He now makes his own pheromone product.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) He says he has evidence that when salespeople use his pheromones, business gets better.

DOCTOR PETER PUGLESE (DERMATOLOGIST)
Just run a little dab under your nose.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) This pheromone you rub under your nose, not on your neck, because this potion is supposed to work on you, from the inside out. We recruited three saleswomen to put this to the test. Leah and Monica work at Andrew’s tie shop in New York. Marina works at Hammacher Schlemmer. They all agreed to wear Dr. Puglese's pheromones for one week and see what happens.

PARTICIPANT (FEMALE)
I hope it works.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(OC) So you guys have been wearing these pheromones for a week now, right? Any difference? Have you noticed anything? Monica?

PARTICIPANT (FEMALE)
People were interacting with us.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
More than before?

PARTICIPANT (FEMALE)
More than before.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(OC) What personal things did guys say to you, Monica?

PARTICIPANT (FEMALE)
Just personal things.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(OC) Well, just whisper it in my ear.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) So the men did linger longer, and Leah and Monica say they did feel more confident. But in the end, they did not sell more ties. At Hammacher Schlemmer, the results were even more dramatic.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(OC) No difference at all?

PARTICIPANT (FEMALE)
No difference.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(OC) Nothing.

PARTICIPANT (FEMALE)
They actually joked about my sales. They said it was decreasing.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) So at least in our non-scientific studies, pheromones did not increase sales. But they might indeed increase sex. But don't ask us how. Both doctors refuse to tell us the ingredients of their potions.

WINNIFRED CUTLER (ATHENA INSTITUTE)
Coca-cola doesn't say what's in its formula. Athena does not either.

***(BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) And armed with that note of skepticism, we checked back with our 40-something women. Kathleen still didn't have a Christmas date, but she remained convinced that pheromones were working.

KATHLEEN (PARTICIPANT)
I think the pheromones are like that added little secret a woman keeps in her arsenal.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) And as for Lisa Ann, something of a surprise. She'd become a pheromone convert.

LISA ANN (PARTICIPANT)
It took a really long time and I was really beginning to suspect it was hooey, but something started to happen. There was a transition.

BILL RITTER (ABC NEWS)
(VO) On a cold December night, Lisa Ann and her date keep each other warm. And guess what? She's already decided what to buy herself for Christmas. A new supply of pheromones.

END OF ABC News 20/20 Transcript

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