Smell of female
Men can tell by smell alone when women are at their most fertile, say researchers from Texas.
They reached this conclusion after getting men to sniff T-shirts worn by women during fertile and
infertile stages of their menstrual cycles. Overwhelmingly, men rated the smells from the T-shirts
to be most "pleasant" and "sexy" when they had been worn by women during their fertile phase.
"It may be a cue that men pick up subtly," says Devendra Singh, the psychologist at the
University of Texas in Austin who made the discovery. But Singh doesn't think the smell would
play as important a role as visual cues in determining sexual attractiveness. The findings shed
light on how ...view middle of the document...
Singh says it is not known if the odour has a subconscious effect or if it can be
detected if a woman wears perfume. The findings contradict those of a 1999 study by Randy
Thornhill and Steven Gangestad of the University of New Mexico. They found men could not
smell any difference. But Singh claims his findings carry more weight because each pair of Tshirts came from the same woman. In Thornhill's study, T-shirts from fertile and infertile phases
came from different women. Men may therefore have picked up differences between women,
rather than between menstrual phases. Thornhill acknowledges this. "It's a nice and important
study," he says. "Singh and his colleague deal with the problem in our studies of inter-individual
differences in body scent," he says. Thornhill says that his most recent, unpublished study agrees
with Singh's, even though shirts again came from different women.
More at: Proceedings of the Royal Society, London B (vol 268, p 797)
16:52 15 June 01
Ever wondered if you might be adopted? Try giving your brothers and sisters a good sniff. That
advice arises from new research that shows that family members can tell each other by smell
alone, but only if they are genetically related to each other. Recognising close relatives by their
odour could be down to familiarity, or simply sharing a common environment and common smells.
But psychologist James Gall of Wayne State University in Detroit and his colleagues compared
members of families in which both blood relatives and step children lived, to see if the genetic link
made a difference. The results showed that mothers were very good at detecting their birth
children by smell, but not their step children. The children themselves were quite good at
distinguishing their brothers and sisters over their step siblings. "We have a basic affinity for our
biological relatives," says Gall's colleague, Glenn Weisfeld. He says smell could explain why
stepchildren are often more badly treated than children living with their biological parents. "I think
it's an important mechanism in how people discriminate against stepchildren," he says.
In the study, 34 pairs of siblings aged four to 11 took part - 13 full siblings, 10 half siblings and 11
step siblings. All of the pairs had been living in the same home with their parents for at least the
last two years. The children were given a clean T-shirt, and asked to wear it for three nights in a
row. During the day, the shirt was kept in a sealed plastic bag to protect it from being
contaminated with household smells. The children were all also given the same unperfumed soap
to use for the three days. At the end of the three nights, each shirt was put into a container with a
small opening in the top for smelling through. Each mother was given two shirts and asked which
smell she preferred, and which she thought was from her own child. The biological mothers knew
which was their child 27...