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Do Humans Release Pheromones?

Professor Tristram Wyatt from the University of Oxford, author of a review published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B put forward a question that has puzzled the minds of many already: do humans have pheromones? He affirmed that if we are to know the answer to this, we have to study humans just like we study animals.


Pheromones are chemical substances produced and released as a way of communication within the same species. Some mammals and insects are known to emit pheromones that affect the behaviour or physiology of others of their kind. Human pheromones, on the other hand, have never been documented. Scientists have not confirmed if they exist at all. If they do exist, where should we start looking for them?

We might have heard of human pheromones often enough though. Smells coming from the armpits have sometimes been mistakenly thought of as pheromones. Decades ago, androstenone steroids fell into this category as well. But, the review paper affirms that this does not make sense. According to the author, while androstenone and androstenol exhibit pheromone effects in pigs and are found in human armpit sweat as well, it is not proven that they can be established as human pheromones.

Professor Wyatt does not, however, deny that humans release pheromones. Rather, he asserts that we need to focus studies on humans themselves in the same manner that animals are studied.

“There are no shortcuts,” writes Professor Wyatt.

He is positive that researchers should make use of biological tests to show whether pheromone chemicals actually trigger a behavioural or physiological response on subjects. He adds that they should synthesise the active molecule artificially. Then, the manufactured pheromone should be tested as to whether it recreates the original change in humans under naturally found levels.

The author also says that scientists need to search for possible pheromones beyond the armpit. He argues that the current approach is not working. He states that if any human pheromone exists at all, it might not have anything to do with sex, but rather, with mothering. For instance, suckling babies rely much on smell – the smell of the nipple secretions stimulate the babies to respond with sucking. Could this be the result of pheromones?

‘We do not yet know if humans have pheromones,’ writes Professor Wyatt. ‘But we can be sure that we shall never find anything if we follow the current path. We need to start again’.


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