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Do human pheromones exist? Scientists say that there is no evidence that they do

Posted March 15, 2017

Sometimes it looks like we know more about animals than about ourselves. For example, do you know if pheromones exist in humans? Even scientists are not sure. A new research from The University of Western Australia revealed that two substances commonly regarded as human pheromones do not work this way.

People find their partners differently than animals – we do not rely on pheromones. Image credit: Chris Hau via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Pheromones in animals are very important. They are key in choosing a partner and procreating. The function of pheromones is to attract individuals of the opposite sex to encourage them to procreate. Many animals rely on these chemical substances, but humans – not so much. However, some believe that humans produce pheromones too. So much so that this idea has been exploited by perfume industry. Two substances commonly regarded as human pheromones are androstadienone (AND) and estratetraenol (EST), but now scientists say that there really is no evidence that it is true. Why perfume companies use these chemicals then? Because there were researches, claiming that they might have this effect.

Humans are social animals and we find our partners completely differently. Of course we are not free from our instincts and we do search for healthy individuals using seemingly primitive methods (such as looking for some physical characteristics in female body). But we would know about pheromones, probably. Scientists tested 94 heterosexual, Caucasian humans (43 male, 51 female) to see if pheromones had an impact on their behaviour. In order to remove possibilities of the bias, these experiments were completely blind – neither participants nor scientists knew if people are asked to smell AND or EST, or a control smell. Then participants had to do some computer tests after smelling these samples.

Firstly, participants had to recognize gender-neutral images. Scientists found that substances had no influence on their gender perception. Then participants had to rate attractiveness of some individuals of the opposite sex and whether the person in the image would be an unfaithful partner. Again – substances had no effect on this judgement either. So it looks like humans may not have pheromones, which makes sense. However, many people want to believe we do, so researches like this get little attention. Leigh Simmons, lead researcher of the study, said: “Much of the research currently promoted focuses on studies that back AND and EST being pheromones in humans, because of human fascination on how we can improve our attractiveness to the opposite sex.”

People should assume the negative until there are proofs of the positive – that is a simple scientific principle. Until someone proves that there are human pheromones, we should think that there are not. And what about perfumes with these chemical substances? Well, businesses are just selling false hope.


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