The impact of artificial fragrances on the assessment of mate quality cues in body odor



Allen C, Cobey KD, Havlicek J & Roberts SC (2016) The impact of artificial fragrances on the assessment of mate quality cues in body odor. Evolution and Human Behavior, 37 (6), pp. 481-489.

We investigated the impact of artificial fragrances on the accurate detection of biologically relevant information in human body odor. To do this, we examined cross-sensory consistency (across faces and odors) in the perception of masculinity and femininity in men and women, and how consistency is influenced by the use of artificial fragrance. Independent sets of same and opposite-sex participants rated odor samples (with and without a fragrance, N = 239 raters), and photographs (N = 130) of 20 men and 20 women. In female, but not male raters, judgments of masculinity/femininity of non-fragranced odor and faces were correlated. However, the correlation between female ratings of male facial and odor masculinity was not evident when assessing a body odor and fragrance blend. Further analysis also indicated that differences in ratings of male odor masculinity between men with very masculine or high and low levels of facial masculinity were removed by the addition of fragrance. This effect was absent in ratings of female odors by both female and male raters, suggesting sex-specificity in the effects of fragrance on odor perception. The widespread use of artificial fragrance in many modern populations raises questions about how this cultural practice influences ability to detect and utilize mate-choice relevant cues. Our findings suggest that women may be more sensitive to these cues, and therefore also to disruption of this information through fragrance use. We discuss our results using the framework of culture-gene coevolution.

fragrance; olfactory communication; body odor; mate choice; cosmetics; perfume

Evolution and Human Behavior: Volume 37, Issue 6

Publication date30/11/2016
Publication date online11/05/2016
Date accepted by journal04/05/2016

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Professor Craig Roberts

Professor Craig Roberts

Professor of Social Psychology, Psychology