A big industry has sprouted up, promising to sell you products guaranteed to make finding the love of your life as easy as making toast. One such product is perfume spiked with pheromones. Squirt on a few pheromones, and the next thing you know, you'll be standing at an altar in a white dress while a handsome tuxedoed gentleman puts a ring on your finger. Supposedly, pheromones bypass all the logic and control centers of the brain and go straight to the areas that control love and attraction. They're a real life love potion! As soon as you smell them, you fall madly in love with someone. That guy/girl is so amazing! You don't know why! There's just something fabulous about him/her! You want to marry him/her now! Or so pheromone perfume ads promise us. And then they charge more money for that perfume, because the pheromones make it super special.
But what are pheromones? And do they work?
What are pheromones?
Pheromones are chemicals that animals release in order to communicate with other animals. They're chemical "words." Pheromones are used by insects, amphibians, reptiles, and some mammals like rats and rabbits. Pheromones can signal alarm or the presence of food. There are pheromones that mothers use to let their babies know it's time to nurse. Pheromones can also signal the desire to mate, which is what I'm talking about in today's post.
|These bug nymphs release a pheromone which causes them to aggregate, or group together. From Wikipedia.|
Whether humans release pheromones is controversial. We just aren't sure. There's some evidence that we do, but it's not very convincing. My money's on "no." Even if we do release pheromones, we still have to be able to sense them. There's no point in wearing pheromone perfume if your crush can't sense pheromones. So...
How do animals sense pheromones?
Even though pheromones show up in perfumes, they aren't scents. They're similar, but not the same. They aren't picked up by the nose, and the brain doesn't process them the same way. Animals that sense pheromones have a vomeronasal organ (VNO). If pheromones are words, then VNOs are ears.
In order for humans to sense pheromones, we would have to have a VNO. We don't. Well, that's not quite true. Unborn fetuses have a VNO. Then it degrades. By the time you're born, it's gone. In animals, neurons in the VNO talk to an area of the brain called the accessory olfactory bulb. Humans don't have an accessory olfactory bulb. So we lack both the organ that senses pheromones, and the brain area that processes them. In other words, we are physically unable to sense or respond to pheromones.
|The vomeronasal organ connects to the accessory olfactory bulbs. The yellow outline at the top is the snake's brain. From neuro.fsu.edu|
Despite lots of effort, there has never been a scientific study showing that humans can sense pheromones or that pheromones change the way we act and behave. So it doesn't matter if we release them, or how many perfumes we wear. It's like yelling at a fully deaf person and expecting them to respond. It just won't work.
Pheromones don't work. At least, not in humans.
In other words, if you want to get someone to like you, don't wear pheromone perfume. It's not a love potion. You're wasting your money. Instead, how about you try talking to your crush?