Pheromone Signature and its Utility in Mate Selection
by Bruce Boyd
This article was inspired by an interesting experiment conducted in Switzerland by the zoologist, Claus Wedekind. It brings up an important point about pheromones that is usually overlooked by the public. On the fragrance market today there are only a handful of specific pheromone ingredients used, while in the laboratory several hundred human pheromones have been isolated so far. It also stands to reason that countless thousands more will be discovered in the future. What does this mean? It means that pheromones are not just something that a particular person has a lot of, and which therefore makes him/her more popular with everybody. Each and every individual has his/her own unique pheromone blueprint or signature. This personal pheromone collage in all probability gives those around us an accurate and complete picture of who and what we are without even opening their eyes, perhaps a more accurate impression than is available via the sense of sight. I wouldn’t be surprised if at sometime in the future, law enforcement authorities were able to identify criminals on the basis of “pheromone-prints” left at the scene of a crime. In a horrifying scene in the movie “Leon”, a super-villain drug lord is able to “smell” that one of his dealers is lying to him, and there is little doubt left in the viewers mind that his ability is accurate.
But if these pheromone signals are real, and we are really broadcasting all our deepest secrets for all the world to see, how are they being picked up? Is it really via the sense of smell? Well, until recently, the overwhelming feeling among pheromone researchers was that pheromone signals are picked up by an entirely separate apparatus from those used to pick up smells. It is called the VNO, and all indications are that the VNO/pheromone system is worthy of being referred to as a new sense, perhaps the long sought after “sixth sense”. Even though I sincerely believe in the therapeutic and social value of the pheromone products that are available on the market today, it is clear that they represent a paltry offering compared to what is on the horizon for pheromone technology in the future.
The Wedekind study is interesting because it specifically deals with this pheromone blueprint, the relationship it has with an individual’s immune system type, and the ability of the human VNO to give us reliable information about others around us.
Male subjects were given a t-shirt and instructed to wear it to bed on two consecutive nights. The subjects were also given scentless soap and other toilet articles and told to use them only. At the end of this period all the t-shirts were put into boxes and rated by female subjects on the basis of smell alone. Some boxes were filled with new t-shirts to act as controls.
Female subjects preferred the boxes containing t-shirts that had been worn by males with dissimilar immune systems as rated by an MHC test. Many women said that the smells reminded them of old boy-friends, while shirts worn by men with similar immune systems reminded them of male family members.
From an evolutionary point of view, this phenomenon needs little explanation. It has long been noted that breeding within a large gene pool, where the chance of dissimilar gene-types mating increases, results in superior offspring, while the opposite conditions, often referred to as “inbreeding” has been shown to bring unfortunate results. The Windekind experiment seems to indicate that without knowing why, women prefer to mate with men with dissimilar immune systems, thereby increasing the chance of producing healthy offspring and can make this decision entirely on the basis of sensing the potential mate’s pheromone blueprint.