A Luxury the Wealthy Can Afford – The Science Behind Finding a Mate

Scary Stories Session 7: A Luxury the Wealthy Can Afford explores the ways in which humans trust people they have little reason to everyday. We sometimes do this out of necessity, other times it is because we mistakenly believe that someone has somehow earned our trust. But our pheromones have often been touted as a biological marker for those that we can trust and and those we cannot. We have all heard someone say that someone else simply doesn’t smell right to them. So do we really all have this magical, biological key to identifying those with which we should spend our time?

The truth is a resounding no. Because as much as we have been sold on the idea of pheromones, when it comes to humans, this is pretty much junk science. The problem is that pheromones themselves are not junk science. Pheromones are a chemical substance produced by animals, especially small mammals, amphibians, reptiles and insects, which affect the behaviour and physiology of others in its species. It is like an additional communication factory that can not only transmit a signal to other animals but can affect change in those receiving this signal.

Scientists began working on the idea that humans too communicated through the use of pheromones. This idea became popularised and widely believed thanks to research done on the syncing of women’s menstruation when in close relationships with one another, and through the belief that it can help signal a compatible mate. This last fact has even led to the rise of pheromone dating, which is just what it sounds like — and yes, it does involve smelling other people’s sweaty t-shirts. The problem is that the research on women’s menstruation was inherently flawed and could much more easily be explained by coincidence and the fact that menstrual cycles do not match up to calendar months.

In reality, pheromones rely heavily on the presence of the vomeronasal organ, a patch of sensory cells in the main nasal chamber. In some animals it is such an important part of the olfactory system that it is called the second nose. Not so in humans. In primates as  a whole, the vomeronasal organ is nothing more than vestigial, present but not in operation. And so without this, even if humans did indeed give off pheromones, we would have no way of detecting them. As a result, pheromones can no more tell you who is a trustworthy mate than picking names from a hat.

Verity ClaytonComment