Book Chapter

The perfume-body odour complex: an insightful model for culture-gene coevolution?


Havlicek J & Roberts SC (2013) The perfume-body odour complex: an insightful model for culture-gene coevolution?. In: East M & Dehnhard M M (eds.) Chemical Signals in Vertebrates 12. New York: Springer, pp. 185-195.

Olfaction is involved in various human social interactions, ranging from mother-offspring attachment to mate choice; as in other species, such chemical ­signalling is thought to be shaped by evolution. However, across many human ­cultures, individuals manipulate their body odour by means of various fragrances and these may significantly affect the outcome of social encounters in a context-specific fashion. Here we employ the framework of dual-inheritance theory, which advocates that cultural practices should be incorporated into the analysis of ­evolution of human behaviour, to explore cultural means of olfactory signalling such as ethnic and status markers. Further, we review studies showing that perfumes interact with body odour in an individual fashion and that people tend to choose perfumes according to their genetic make-up. This indicates that biologically evolved chemical ­signalling might operate in concert with cultural human practices. Finally, we propose two scenarios: (1) how culturally based preferences and use of perfume might impact gene frequencies in individual populations, and (2) how evolved cognitive biases might affect selection of scents that are appropriate for body adornments. This, in our view, makes the perfume-body odour complex a potentially insightful model for culture-gene coevolution.

Publication date31/12/2013
Publisher URL…1-4614-5927-9_14
Place of publicationNew York