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Human pheromones

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Few well-controlled scientific studies have ever been published suggesting the possibility of pheromones in humans.

The best known case involves the synchronization of menstrual cycles among women based on unconscious odor cues (the McClintock effect, named after the primary investigator, Martha McClintock, of the University of Chicago).[1][2] This study exposed a group of women to a whiff of perspiration from other women. It was found that it caused their menstrual cycles to speed up or slow down depending on the time in the month the sweat was collected; before, during, or after ovulation. Therefore, this study proposed that there are two types of pheromone involved: "One, produced prior to ovulation, shortens the ovarian cycle; and the second, produced just at ovulation, lengthens the cycle". However, recent studies and reviews of the McClintock methodology have called into question the validity of her results.[3]

File:Forever Tel Aviv at TLV nightclub in Israel 2.jpg

A newspaper report([4]) suggested that women with irregular menstrual cycles became regular when exposed to male underarm extracts, and hypothesized that male sweat contains pheromones, which mirror how pheromones affect other mammals.[4]

Other studies have demonstrated that the smell of androstadienone, a chemical component of male sweat, maintains higher levels of cortisol in females,[5] and that the compound is detected via the olfactory mucosa.[6] The scientists suggest that the ability of this compound to influence the endocrine balance of the opposite sex makes it a human pheromonal chemosignal. In 2002, a study showed an unnamed synthetic chemical in women's perfume appeared to increase intimate contact with men. The authors hypothesize, but do not demonstrate, that the observed behavioural differences are olfactorily mediated.[7] This and a previous study by the same authors with the still undisclosed "pheromone" preparation has been heavily criticized for having methodological flaws and that upon re-analyzing there was no effect seen.[8][9]

Other studies have suggested that people might be using odor cues associated with the immune system to select mates who are not closely related to themselves. Using a brain imaging technique, Swedish researchers have shown that homosexual and heterosexual males' brains respond differently to two odors that may be involved in sexual arousal, and that the homosexual men respond in the same way as heterosexual women, though it could not be determined whether this was cause or effect.[How to reference and link to summary or text] The study was expanded to include homosexual women; the results were consistent with previous findings meaning that homosexual women were not as responsive to male identified odors, while their response to female cues were similar to that of heterosexual males.[10] According to the researchers, this research suggests a possible role for human pheromones in the biological basis of sexual orientation.[11] In 2008, it was found using functional magnetic resonance imaging that the right orbitofrontal cortex, right fusiform cortex, and right hypothalamus respond to airborne natural human sexual sweat. [12]

In 2006, it was shown that a second mouse receptor sub-class is found in the olfactory epithelium. Called the trace amine-associated receptors (TAAR), some are activated by volatile amines found in mouse urine, including one putative mouse pheromone.[13] Orthologous receptors exist in humans providing, the authors propose, evidence for a mechanism of human pheromone detection.[14]

Some body spray advertisers claim that their products contain human sexual pheromones which act as an aphrodisiac. In the 1970s, "copulins" were patented as products which release human pheromones, based on research on rhesus monkeys.[15] Subsequently, androstenone, axillary sweat, and "vomodors" have been claimed to act as human pheromones.[16] Despite these claims, no pheromonal substance has ever been demonstrated to directly influence human behavior in a peer reviewed study.[15][16][17]


  1. McClintock MK (1971). "Menstrual synchrony and suppression". Nature 229 (5282): 244-5. PMID 4994256
  2. Stern K, McClintock MK (1998). "Regulation of ovulation by human pheromones". Nature 392 (6672): 177-9. doi:10.1038/32408. PMID 9515961.
  3. Yang, Zhengwei, Jeffrey C. Schank (2006). Women Do Not Synchronize Their Menstrual Cycles. Human Nature 17 (4): 434–447.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Looking for love potion number nine, Cathryn M. Delude, Boston Globe, September 2, 2003.
  5. Wyart C, Webster WW, Chen JH, Wilson SR, McClary A, Khan RM, Sobel N (February 2007). Smelling a single component of male sweat alters levels of cortisol in women. The Journal of Neuroscience : the Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience 27 (6): 1261–5.
  6. Savic I, Hedén-Blomqvist E, Berglund H. (2009). Pheromone signal transduction in humans: What can be learned from olfactory loss. Hum Brain Mapp. 30(9):3057-3065. PMID 19235878
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  7. (March 20 2002)San Francisco State University study shows that synthetic pheromones in women's perfume increase intimate contact with men. San Francisco State University Office of Public Affairs.
  8. Anders Winman (2004). Do perfume additives termed human pheromones warrant being termed pheromones?. Physiology & Behavior Volume , Issue 4, 30 September , Pages 82 (4): 697–701.
  9. Charles J. Wysocki, George Preti (1998). Pheromonal Influences. Archives of Sexual Behavior 27 (6): 627–641.
  10. Berglund H, Lindström P, Savic I (May 2006). Brain response to putative pheromones in lesbian women. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 103 (21): 8269–74.
  11. Wade, N. "Gay Men are found to have Different Scent of Attraction." NY Times, May 9, 2005
  12. [Wen], Denise Chen (March 20 2008). Encoding human sexual chemosensory cues in the orbitofrontal and fusiform cortices.. J Neurosci 25 (53): 14416–21.
  13. Liberles SD, Buck LB. 2006. A second class of chemosensory receptors in the olfactory epithelium. Nature. 442(7103):645-50. PMID 16878137
  14. Pearson H. 2006. Mouse data hint at human pheromones. Nature. 442(7102):495. PMID 16885951
  15. 15.0 15.1 Wyatt, Tristram D. (2003). Pheromones and Animal Behaviour: Communication by Smell and Taste. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-48526-6. p. 298 Quoting Preti & Weski (1999) "No peer reviewed data supporting the presences of...human...pheromones that cause rapid behavioral changes, such as attraction and/or copulation have been documented."
  16. 16.0 16.1 Hays, Warren S. T., Human pheromones: have they been demonstrated? Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 2003, 54:89-97
  17. Bear, Mark F.; Barry W. Connors, Michael A. Paradiso (2006). Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 264 ...there has not yet been any hard evidence for human pheromones that might [change] sexual attraction (for members of either sex) [naturally]
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