Are People Actually Attracted to Pheromones?

Human pheromones are often perceived as the built-in love potions we carry around with us, and the search for the perfect concoction has long been a driving force for perfume and cologne makers. Now, however, researchers say that something smells fishy -- or actually, when it comes to human pheromones, there may be no smell at all.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no definitive evidence that human pheromones exist.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no definitive evidence that human pheromones exist.

In a 2017 study, heterosexual participants were exposed to two different steroids (androstadienone and estratetraenol) believed to have the properties of pheromones. The participants were then shown pictures of either men or women, as well as computer-generated gender-neutral faces, and asked to rate the attractiveness of the people in the photos.

The expectation was that the steroids would sway the participants' perceptions, making them perceive the opposite-sex photos as more attractive than usual and the gender-neutral images as more female (for the male participants) or more male (for the female participants). Instead, nothing happened, and the participants viewed the images the same way they would have without the steroid enhancement.

Lead author Leigh Simmons, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Western Australia, said the research suggests that the two steroids used in the study should be dropped from the list of possible human pheromones.

So, if it's not pheromones...

  • A 2008 study showed that people become attracted to someone else within half a second, even if they aren't immediately aware of it.

  • According to one study, women become more attracted to "alpha males" when they are ovulating, while another study found that men find the face of an ovulating woman particularly attractive.

  • A recent study found that for conception, a woman's egg has an active role in choosing the "winning" sperm by releasing chemicals called chemoattractants; these chemoattractants have varying effects on the sperm of different men.

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