6 Aug 2022


Pheromones: The Science of Attraction

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Academic level: University

Paper type: Research Paper

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Choosing a mating partner is a normal part of all animals also referred to as intersexual selection. This is an evolutionary process that involves the selection based on attractiveness of phenotypic traits. However, this process in human beings is different as opposed to other animals. Mating is not primarily for reproduction but usually for pleasure hence the strategies for men and women are different in acquiring mates. Sexual selection theory provides an explanation to the causes of sexual selection. However, it does not provide a clear distinction on how women and men select their mates and the significant biological processes involved. Researchers have conducted numerous studies to identify how men and women select their preferred mating partners. There are various processes involved in the selection of partners including fertility of a female, subliminally perceived odors or olfaction, and release of pheromones during mating. 

Thesis: Nevertheless, empirical studies have shown that olfactory functioning and pheromones play a primary role in mating choice among human beings as presented in the following paper. 

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According to the historical research conducted by Darwin, it is evident that there two significant factors involved in the evolutionary change that takes place within a given species. These factors include natural selection and sexual selection. In the former, the more dominant genes in a species are used to adapt to the environment while in the latter the animals that have stronger genes tend to survive through harsh environments. Natural selection helps bring about a new species while sexual selection helps ensure evolution of sex differences (Schank, 2006). This mechanism involves significant competition between individuals of the same sex also termed as Intrasexual competition and selection of mating partners by discriminating particular members also identified as intersexual choice (Singh, 2004). The most common practice is competition between male species who seek to gain access to mates while females select the most dominant of this group. 

Human mating has been a basic factor to his continued existence while numerous animals have become extinct. According to majority of the research conducted, it is depicted that women are far more selective than men in their mate choice. This conclusion is based on biological factors whereby, women are at a higher risk of losing out in terms of reproduction if they make the wrong choice of a mating partner Schank, 2006). In such a case, the woman will usually choose the most sexually aggressive male as a clear indicator of the high level of good genes to ensure reproduction. This practice of choosing mating partner is similar for majority of the mammalian species. The strongest male is depicted as the partner of choice for the coy female. In some case, the male has to fight off a number of competing males so as to become the dominant figure in the group to fertilize other females (Singh, 2004). 

In Darwin’s research, it is evident that he provided the definition for sexual selection but does not identify reasons for competition in men and choosiness in women. However, empirical studies nearly a century later provided clarifications on this issue (Singh, 2004). The variation is noted that sex differences in regards to competition or choice significantly influences the degree of an individual’s investment to parenting. The sex that provides more parental investment becomes an important resource in reproduction for the opposite sex. For this reason, competition takes place where the lower investing sex competes for the higher investing sex. Males are considered to be the lower investing sex making females to be in more demand for the purpose of reproduction. As a result, the former has a higher rate to engage in competition as opposed to the latter who become the choosy mates. 

Despite these factors engraved into the biological construct of the species, human beings in the modern times are believed to be dominated by sight. In this regard, the physical attractiveness of the female is depicted as an integral factor in the choice of a mate for men. This stereotype however contains both desirable and undesirable personal qualities. The more attractive female is associated with high levels of unfaithfulness as opposed to the less attractive figures. Despite some truth in this stereotype, researchers have found that social chemosensory signals play an important role in mate selection. This practice is ubiquitously used in the numerous animal species as it helps provide individual and group identity while it helps determine the repulsiveness or attractiveness of a particular sex. In the same way, human beings have incorporated this physiological trait coupled with emotional state in determining potential mating partners. 

Mate Choice in Women 

Despite the fact that the current world population hosts more women than men, it is evident that women are more in demand than men. Men are usually in great competition with their male counterparts as they seek to gain access to mating partners. They will usually present themselves in the most dominant ways to attract their desired partners. As a result, the choice is always left for the women who seek the most sexually aggressive male in their environment. Since human beings cannot behave like wild animals who fight off their competitors to get sexual access to the opposite sex, what are the numerous techniques that are used in the choice of mating partners? There are robust and reliable empirical research findings that show women similar to men identify physical attractiveness in the description of an ideal partner. This factor is primarily used in preferences for short-term relationships such as a one-night stand. However, for long-term relationships women tend to relax the demand for physical attraction instead opting for factors like high social status and financial prospects. 

Despite the importance of these there are a number of physiological preferences that are included and aid the selection of a mating partner. Sex difference is one of the most important factors identified in intersexual selection. Women tend to prefer men who display high qualities such as characteristics of good genes and high paternal investment (Sergeant, Davies, Dickins & Griffiths, 2005). In this research, the authors identify that women experience greater reproductive costs hence have to demonstrate high levels of selection in their mating choices. They are certain of maternity thus take into consideration their own protection at this time and the potential health of their offspring. It is for this reason that women take into consideration high access for resources which usually has a direct relation to health concerns (Geary, Vigil, & Byrd‐Craven, 2004). This factor demonstrates why highly attractive women are considered to have a great sense of attraction to men with command of resources as it is beneficial to survival of their offspring. 

Another factor that is demonstrated to have significant influence on mating choice in women is the chemosensory signals that influence selection of mates and Intrasexual competition (Geary, Vigil, & Byrd‐Craven, 2004). The choice of a potential mate is depicted as a romantic partner is depicted as a social interaction practice where individuals incorporate social and emotional skills to identify quality potential candidates (Fagundo et al., 2015). There is a close interlink between social and emotional skills though there has been little evidence to show the relationship between the two processes (Geary, Vigil, & Byrd‐Craven, 2004). The ability of individuals to demonstrate superior skill in olfactory identification relates to high emotional competency (Zhou & Chen, 2009). Through the smell of natural sweat researchers have found that chemosensory recognition of individuals helps women identify the potential sexual partner as it is connected to the cognitive and visual processing of emotion. 

Olfaction also has significant impact on the perception and resulting behavior of an individual during selection of romantic partners. Women will usually experience significant pressure from the society to engage in exercising their ability to produce an offspring (Geary, Vigil, & Byrd‐Craven, 2004). This pressure is experienced by individuals in their middle ages who have yet to find romantic partners (Yang, & Schank, 2006). Younger women on the other hand, will feel that they are in great demand such that they can make a choice of preferred mates. However, during ovulation either before or after menstruation, exposing women to subliminal odors such as androstadienone serves as a chemosignal to prompt women to engage in Intrasexual competition. The sexual phase, a term coined by Bullivant et al. (2004) identifies significant surge of the preovulatory surge in Luteinizing Hormone that influences an increase in sexual motivation among women. Non-partnered women usually identified feeling lonely and a heightened desire for intimacy at this time (Sergeant, Davies, Dickins, & Griffiths, 2004). This occurrence may prompt women to engage in active selection of potential mates even though they are not consciously searching for a long-term partner resulting in instances of one-night stands. 

Mate Choice in Men 

There is a distinct difference in the mating choice process of men to that of women. Due to their evolutionary purpose in reproduction and care of offspring men are more likely than women to demonstrate less critique in their selection. As a result, men are depicted to have a relaxed sense of choice in romantic mates and seek to gain more sexual partners than women (Parma et al., 2012). Research shows that the possibility of male reproduction is limited to their access to sexual partners who are capable of producing an offspring. In this regard, the selection of mates usually centers on phenotypic traits associated with youthfulness and fertility. The cues that prompt selection of a mate include neotenous traits like smooth skin, large eyes and small chin which generally makes a woman appear more attractive (Parma et al., 2012). This behavior common in men irrespective of culture is a primary factor why they are considered to focus on the physical characteristics of a potential mate. 

As mentioned previously, vision is the most dominant factor in humans to assess the quality of a romantic sexual partner. Olfaction plays a central factor in mate selection practices by non-human species. However, studies have shown that this sensory modality is also important in human mating selection (Fagundo et al., 2015). Though the females of the human species do not explicitly show signs of sexual interest like spraying urine or swelling of body organs, there are numerous ways that women project their readiness for a sexual partner. In this case, some may dress up more provocatively, engage in more flirting and are sexually excitable during the sexual phase identified by Bullivant et al. (2004). Other studies suggest that minuscule changes in voice pitch, skin tone and scent demonstrate readiness for a sexual partner. These changes also influence the hormones of men and their mating behavior whereby during this ovulation time they are more likely to mimic the gesture of women to show their attraction to them. 

These findings have come under a lot of criticism as they are depicted as lab results that do not significantly influence mating choices in the real world. This critique is profound in research on college girls who preferred to have flings with men displaying caddish behavior. This increase in desire usually took place mid-cycle towards men who showed confidence and cocky attitudes (Fagundo et al., 2015). The choice for a long-term partner changed at other points of their cycle as they chose men who showed higher paternal investment. There are studies that show that there is significant increase in hormonal response in men when exposed to the natural scent of a woman during ovulation (Fagundo et al., 2015). The men tend to become more possessive of their partners and demonstrate high levels of affection towards them. A significant surge of the Luteinizing hormone in women during ovulation led to an increase in testosterone levels in the men. 

Social cultural attitudes are also shown to have significant influence on men choosing potential mating partners. The female attractiveness stereotype in terms of weight and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) influenced selection of a mate. The research conducted by Singh (2004) showed that figures with low WHR were considered more attractive than those with a high WHR. Neurobehavioral information also studied shows relation of alcohol to sex. Tan and Goldman (2015) show that human being consciously use alcohol as a tool to encourage sexual activity. When men are exposed to the pheromones emitted by a woman who is ovulating prompts consumption of alcohol and influences their behavior to respond and approach their female counterparts in a social setting (Tan & Goldman, 2015). Despite the extensive research on the influence of olfaction in sexual attraction and mate choice, the men do not show great intelligence on its use and choice of romantic partners. 

Literature Review 

Various studies have provided great insight into the mating choice practices of both men and women. There is vast empirical research on the behavioral methods utilized by women in the search for the most appropriate romantic partner. The study findings by Bullivant and colleagues show that a significant surge of the Luteinizing hormone during ovulation increases sexual desire where partnered women initiate sexual activity (2004). This surge also takes place in women who are not partnered prompting a feeling of loneliness and significant desire to acquire a mating partner (Fagundo et al., 2015). These findings help explain the significant response in men who are around women who are ovulating. During this time, women are more likely to emit chemicals of sexual signaling that alert the different male species of her readiness and desire to engage in sexual activity. The research by Tan and Goldman (2015) affirms this notion as the men are exposed to these chemical by olfaction. 

The sense of smell is closely associated with the limbic system, a part of the brain that influences a varied number of behaviors. In this case, some of the other functions of this part included emotional response and detection among other cognitive functions such as decision making (Parma et al., 2012). There is minimal research to show the relationship between emotional status and olfactory functioning in healthy subjects. The research conducted by Takahashi and colleagues showed that women had a lower threshold of recognizing sweet odor of fruit but a higher threshold of recognizing rotten odor fruits (2015). The authors emphasize that the results were not influenced by age, socioeconomic status, smoking history and IQ. Furthermore, the state and trait anxiety rating influenced olfactory functioning as it reduced the ability to recognize rose odor. These findings can be used to identify the importance of olfaction in human mate selection practices (Parma et al., 2012). While men have a high threshold of recognizing the most appropriate partner for mating and potential production of an offspring, women are more likely to detect the partners that would not suit them and their maternal needs for health and protection of offspring (Sergeant, Davies, Dickins, & Griffiths, 2004). 

The research on selection of mating partners in human beings unanimously agrees that animals present more profound and evident cues of portraying their readiness to mate. However, the loss of estrus in humans makes us less driven by sex hormones (Parma et al., 2012). This occurrence does not mean that the effect is non-existent, rather that the influence is more subtle than other mammalian species. The natural sweat excreted from the body helps in conveying individual identity and genetic relatedness while also assisting in identification of the reproductive state of an individual and their attractiveness for that matter (Zhou & Chen, 2009). According to the study conducted by Roberts et al. (2011) axillary odor significantly helped in predicting the attractiveness of nonverbal behavioral cues. In this research, the findings demonstrated that the ability to identify pleasant axillary odors was important in mating selection particularly in men. This practice incorporates the use of natural body odor as opposed to the artificial ones used. 


The aim of the study is to show the importance of olfaction and emitting of pheromones in the mate selection processes. Vision is depicted as the most dominant factor in the choice of romantic partners. Men identify women who possess features of youthfulness and a great sense of fertility traits as the most attractive and the potential mating partner of choice. On the other hand, women are more likely to identify men who display features of good genes that can be transferred to the offspring ensuring their survival (Sergeant, Davies, Dickins, & Griffiths, 2004). Despite the physiological differences in men and women, research has shown that both incorporate olfaction in the choice of romantic partners. 

According to evolutionary factors, women are inclined to incorporate a greater sense of selection to realize minimal reproductive costs when they select the wrong partner. In this regard, the women utilized body odors to identify the most attractive male partner who also displayed high quality characteristics (Sergeant, Davies, Dickins, & Griffiths, 2004). These two methods of selecting mating partners enhance the individual’s ability to select the most appropriate choice in romantic relationships particularly with the view of a long-term engagement. 


The empirical studies have shown that olfactory functioning and pheromones play a primary role in selection of mating partners among human beings. Though human beings do not present conspicuous signs of fertility and readiness for a mate, the subtle presentations help in significantly alerting male species of their desire for sexual activity. The above studies have shown that when men are exposed to pheromones emitted by women during ovulation, this action significantly increases their testosterone levels. As a result, the heterosexual male is inclined to respond more to the numerous behaviors of a woman who has a heightened level of fertility at the time. The male respondents are usually exposed to these pheromones by olfaction making it a primary factor in the process of mate selection. However, vision remains a dominant factor whereby phenotypic trait that demonstrate high fertility in women and good genes in men are coupled with the odor pleasantness to make a more informed decision of mating partner. The studies also show that there is need to conduct extensive research to identify why olfaction does not always factor in during mate selection in men especially when women are not ovulating. 


Bullivant, S. B., Sellergren, S. A., Stern, K., Spencer, N. A., Jacob, S., Mennella, J. A., & McClintock, M. K. (2004). Women's sexual experience during the menstrual cycle: Identification of the sexual phase by noninvasive measurement of luteinizing hormone. Journal of sex research , 41(1), 82-93. 

Fagundo, A. B., Jiménez-Murcia, S., Giner-Bartolomé, C., Islam, M. A., De la Torre, R., Pastor, A., ... & Botella, C. (2015). Modulation of higher-order olfaction components on executive functions in humans. PloS One , 10(6): 1-11. 

Geary, D. C., Vigil, J., & Byrd‐Craven, J. (2004). Evolution of human mate choice. Journal of sex research , 41(1), 27-42. 

Parma, V., Tirindelli, R., Bisazza, A., Massaccesi, S., & Castiello, U. (2012). Subliminally perceived odours modulate female Intrasexual competition: an eye movement study. PLoS One , 7(2), e30645. 

Roberts, S. C., Kralevich, A., Ferdenzi, C., Saxton, T. K., Jones, B. C., DeBruine, L. M., ... & Havlicek, J. (2011). Body odor quality predicts behavioral attractiveness in humans. Archives of sexual behavior , 40(6), 1111-1117. 

Schank, J. C. (2006). Do human menstrual-cycle pheromones exist? Human Nature , 17(4), 449-470. 

Sergeant, M. J., Davies, M. N., Dickins, T. E., & Griffiths, M. D. (2005). The self-reported importance of olfaction during human mate choice. Sexualities, Evolution & Gender , 7(3), 199-213. 

Singh, D. (2004). Mating strategies of young women: Role of physical attractiveness. Journal of sex research , 41(1), 43-54. 

Takahashi, T., Itoh, H., Nishikawa, Y., Higuchi, Y., Nakamura, M., Sasabayashi, D., ... & Suzuki, M. (2015). Possible relation between olfaction and anxiety in healthy subjects. Psychiatry and clinical neurosciences , 69(7), 431-438. 

Tan, R., & Goldman, M. S. (2015). Exposure to female fertility pheromones influences men’s drinking. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology , 23(3), 139. 

Yang, Z., & Schank, J. C. (2006). Women do not synchronize their menstrual cycles. Human Nature , 17(4), 434-447. 

Zhou, W., & Chen, D. (2009). Sociochemosensory and emotional functions: Behavioral evidence for shared mechanisms. Psychological Science , 20(9), 1118-1124. 

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