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Monitor On Psychology

 


Volume 33, October 2002 Copyright ©2002 Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association


Pheromones, in context: In a field plagued by murky results and marketing hype, a few things are finally becoming clear. The journal of the American Psychology Association MONITOR ON PSYCHOLOGY prints article on pheromones and Dr. Norma McCoy's published study of Athena Pheromone 10:13tm.

Review the 2002 independent study on Athena Pheromone 10:13tm for Women, published in Physiology and Behavior click here

Excerpted by Athena Institute

By Etienne Benson Monitor staff:

This is a field of research where the opinions of experts range from gung-ho boosterism to outright skepticism, where accusations of data fudging and sexism fly, and where the popular press is always watching from the sidelines, ready to trumpet each new claim and counterclaim to the world as soon as it is made.

On one side of the debate are the pheromone boosters, some of whom have founded companies that sell pheromone-based perfumes and pharmaceuticals. On the other side are skeptics who argue that the phrase "human pheromone" is a contradiction in terms. Between the two extremes lies a middle ground of researchers who are doubtful of the strongest claims but unwilling to ignore the possibility that humans, like many other animals, use chemicals to communicate.

Among them is Martha McClintock, PhD, who can be credited with starting the human pheromone phenomenon. In 1971, the University of Chicago psychologist, then an undergraduate at Wellesley College, published a study showing that the menstrual periods of women who lived together tended to converge on the same time every month, an effect thought to be mediated by pheromones.

When McClintock first began studying menstrual synchrony in the 1970s, data addressing how one woman could affect the hormonal cycle of another was nonexistent. But it seemed plausible that pheromones were responsible, especially since one of the original definitions of the term described them as "ectohormones," substances that worked between individuals in much the same way that "endohormones," like testosterone and estrogen, worked within them.

The pheromones thought to be responsible for menstrual synchrony are known as "primers"--substances that can influence long-term changes in hormone levels, such as those that take place during the menstrual cycle, the onset of puberty or pregnancy. But researchers were also eager to find evidence for human "releasers"--quick-acting pheromones that in non-human animals can trigger stereotypical behavioral responses, such as sexual intercourse. Although some were skeptical that any stimulus--auditory, visual, tactile or chemical--could elicit stereotyped behaviors in humans, others were more optimistic.

Meanwhile, researchers like Winnifred Cutler, PhD, one of those who founded companies to market pheromone-based perfume additives in the 1980s, were trying to show that the substances worked as advertised. In 1998, she reported that her male perfume additive significantly increased men's likelihood of having sex. Last spring, San Francisco State University psychologist Norma McCoy, PhD, reported similar results using Cutler's female perfume additive. (Athena Pheromone 10:13 for women)

In McCoy's view, their studies show that the pheromones work under real-world conditions, regardless of laboratory results. "I think that we've once and for all demonstrated that this pheromone, however it's constituted, does have powers over the other sex," she says. "There is something that makes women attractive, and it can be very, very powerful."

Future research

Future studies may settle some of these controversies. McCoy hopes to extend her work on sex pheromones to postmenopausal women. McClintock intends to study the influence of odors given off by breast-feeding women on the fertility of other women. Meredith, Johnston and others plan to continue studying the biological mechanisms by which chemical messages affect social behavior in rodents and other animals.

How important these substances are in everyday life remains an open question. But whether or not one believes that human pheromones are sex attractants, as McCoy and Cutler do, there are still a number of social domains in which chemical messages could have an important effect, says McClintock.

"In animals, [pheromones] are involved very strongly in care of offspring, in recognizing members of your social group, in recognizing family members," she says. "In thinking about what the normal function might be, we know from the animal work that we need to think broadly in social terms and that the same compound might serve differently in different contexts."

"The field of physiological or biopsychology typically looks at how biology causes changes in behavior," she adds. "What we're trying to do is say that that's a very reductionist approach, and what is really important is to realize that psychology and social interaction also regulate the biology."

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COMMENT FROM ATHENA INSTITUTE: Both Athena Pheromone 10:13tm for women and Athena Pheromone 10Xtm for men are cosmetics that can increase your attractiveness to the opposite sex. Neither product is an “aphrodisiac.”

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