The Chemistry Between People: Are Our Bodies Affected by Another Person’s Scent?

Copyright © 1987 Newsweek Magazine


Dr. Cutler's 1986 pheromone research is covered in Newsweek magazine...

Excerpted by Athena Institute

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By Terence Monmaney with Susan Katz

The air is loaded with secrets, with intimate messages both unseen and unheard. Ready! A female moth announces, and male moths miles away soon receive the invitation and head upwind, eager to mate. A dog goes into heat, and male dogs all over the neighborhood are drawn by a telltale scent to her masters’ door. In creatures as different as bugs and dogs, life-and-death messages are relayed via a specialized chemical known as a pheromone - a substance that works much like a hormone, but is released by one individual and prompts changes in the physiology or behavior of another.

Ever since scientists discovered pheromones 30 years ago, they’ve found such chemical communication in hundreds of species - from moths to mice to monkeys. And man? Do we, the great communicators, also make use of such potent and unambiguous signals? (click for more on pheromone discovery in humans) Is there literal truth to the notion that when people get along, it is because of the right "chemistry"?

There have been plenty of claims. A mother's pheromones, researchers once said, are what attract her infant to her breasts. *** But while the idea of human pheromones is intriguing, the dozens or so studies that addressed the possibility in the past 10 years were disappointing: no one established beyond a doubt that human pheromones exists.

Now two new studies are stirring up the pheromone debate with the boldest claims yet. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a nonprofit research institute in Philadelphia, say that people produce underarm pheromones that can influence menstrual cycles.

The studies, done by chemist George Preti and biologist Winnifred B. Cutler (click for bio), are not the first of their kind, but they are the first ones rigorous enough to be published in a respected scientific journal, Hormones and Behavior.

In one study the researchers collected underarm secretions from men who wore a pad in each armpit. This "male essence" {pheromone} was then swabbed, three times a week, on the upper lips of seven women whose cycles typically lasted less than 26 days or more than 33. By the third month of such treatment, the average length of the women's cycles began to approach the optimum 29.5 days - the cycle length associated with highest fertility.

Cutler's conclusion: " Male essence" contains at least one pheromone that "helps promote reproductive health".

Female Essence: The experiment was more rigorous than earlier ones for two reasons. It employed a control group - eight women who were swabbed with alcohol showed no effect - and it was performed in "double-blind" fashion: neither the subjects nor the researchers knew whether alcohol or male essence dissolved in alcohol was being applied until after the study.

In Cutler and Preti’s second experiment, they studied menstrual synchrony - the phenomenon that women who live in close quarters tend to have cycles that coincide *** This time Cutler and Preti exposed 10 women with normal cycles to female underarm sweat. After three months of the same sweat-on-the-lip treatment, the women's cycles were starting roughly in synchrony with those of the women who had donated the sweat. Menstrual synchrony was first documented in 1970 when psychologist Martha McClintock studied women living in a college dormitory.

But this new study is the first to offer solid evidence that pheromones are what mediate the effect.

"Pheromones are real in human beings., "concludes Preti...


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