Pheromones are excreted chemicals with the ability to trigger a social response in members of similar species. It is a type of non-verbal and non-visual communication which has a strong effect on the behavior of the receiver. Pheromones were scientifically recognized in 1953, but the idea has been around for much longer. They have been well-documented in the insect world, and many species of plants and animals also make use of them. The real question is, will my “human pheromone booster pills” actually attract me a mate? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean that humans are entirely unaffected by these intriguing chemicals.
Types of Pheromones
Since other living things lack the complexity of human communication, a different method evolved as a way to instantaneously pass important information to each other. Most human pheromones are involved with basic life functions: avoiding danger, identifying friends, and choosing a mate. Alarm pheromones are quite common as a defense against danger. Certain forms will trigger a flight reaction, while others will incite aggression against predators. If you’ve ever seen a dog “marking his territory,” this is an example of territorial pheromones. Ants use trail pheromones to travel great distances without getting lost. Aggregation pheromones are released in order to bring together a large number of the same species as a form of defense (a swarm of bees is much more intimidating than an individual). Sex pheromones are very complex, and they are sometimes even used to find genetically compatible mates and avoid inbreeding. Other types can be sensed for up to two miles away by the opposite sex. Almost all living things make use of this form of unconscious sexual communication.
Pheromones in Humans
Humans have an incredibly complex system of verbal and visual communication. As soon as primates evolved acute color vision, the genetic code for producing and interpreting pheromones seemed to disappear from our DNA. There is much debate over whether or not humans utilize pheromones, but specific evidence is lacking. Although many human behaviors can be explained by pheromones, we do not know exactly what our chemicals are, or how our bodies interpret them. There is enough research to suggest that we do use pheromonal communication, so perhaps someday the specific mechanisms will be revealed.
When people are talking about human pheromones, they are usually referring to smells and sex. In fact, that is what the majority of human research has been focused on. Three types of axillary steroids produced in human sex glands are widely considered to be pheromones. However, we are not sure how the body senses them, nor how the brain processes them. These chemicals have been observed to increase attraction, but sometimes trigger hostility or aggression. One of the strongest studies involves women’s menstrual cycles. Sometimes when females are in close proximity for a long period of time, unconscious odor cues will cause their ovulations to synchronize. Since menstruation is usually not within one’s power to control, it is obvious that another mechanism is at work.
Future Research and Applications
Many scientists are currently working to determine the exact science behind human pheromones. Although it seems that these compounds play a role in our social behavior, they are definitely not as precise or compelling as with the rest of nature. The first step in cracking this chemical code will be to determine exactly how humans receive the signals. Most mammals have a structure called the vomeronasal organ (VNO) within the olfactory system. Although humans possess a VNO, the genes that power it have been deactivated. There may be another organ that adapted for a similar purpose, or maybe the VNO analyzes pheromones in a way that science has not yet observed.
One thing is for sure. The first person to patent synthetic human pheromones will become incredibly rich. Although there are numerous pheromone products on the market, not a single one has ever stood ground in a study. No matter what that commercial says, the lotions and creams are bogus. Pheromone pills are science fiction. And to all the teenage boys, your body spray actually repels a lot more than it attracts.