Ever found someone inexplicably, ridiculously attractive? Like, something about them makes you respond and react in ways that are unbecoming of you? Then you, perhaps, have something called ‘pheromones’ to blame for it.
What are they?
Pheromones are chemical substances which are secreted on the outside by an individual, and received by another individual of the same species. While animals are known to produce pheromones, their existence in human beings has been long debated, mainly because humans under-develop and underrate their smelling sense. Yet, pheromones — present in all bodily secretions, and especially in the axillary sweat — can be detected by the olfactory system.
Unlike hormones that usually work internally, pheromones are ecto-hormones, meaning they are secreted outside the body.
Pheromones in animals
Animals, with their heightened senses and vomeronasal organ (also known as the or Jacobson’s organ), are known to secrete pheromones to trigger many kinds of behaviours, mainly those of sexual arousal, raising an alarm, signalling a food trail, warning another animal to back off, and bonding with an offspring.
It is believed that the first pheromone — called bombykol — was identified in 1959. Bombykol is said to be secreted by female moths to attract males.
Pheromones in humans
While there isn’t any compelling evidence to prove the existence of pheromones, it is believed they do exist in human beings. If humans respond to hormones, most likely they use their olfactory system.
A German doctor and hygienist called Gustav Jäger, is believed to be the first scientist who put forth the idea of human pheromones, which he called ‘anthropines’.
According to Jäger, anthropines are lipophilic compounds (those that tend to combine with, or are capable of dissolving in lipids, or fats) associated with skin and follicles that mark the individual signature of human odours.
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A research conducted in the University of Chicago found that when exposed to a scent of sweat from other women, a woman’s menstrual cycle either accelerated or slowed down, depending on whether the sweat was collected before, during, or after ovulation. According to the researchers, the pheromone collected before ovulation shortened the ovarian cycle, while the pheromone collected during ovulation lengthened it.
Pheromones and the human sexual behaviour
According to an article in the Psychology Today magazine, “how our body odours are perceived as pleasant and sexy to another person is a highly selective process. We usually smell best to a person whose genetically based immunity to disease differs most from our own. This could benefit in the long run, making for stronger, healthier children.”