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Four Things to Know About Pheromones
The science of attraction is a complex thing. Read on for Groupon's investigation of the role pheromones might (or might not) play in finding a mate.
1. For many species, pheromones are a real-life Love Potion No. 9. Pheromones are simply chemicals released by one animal that change the behavior of another animal of the same species. Female silk moths, for instance, release a chemical called bombykol that, even in tiny amounts, attracts males from great distances. With tiger moths, on the other hand, it's the females who are attracted by the males' pheromones—which are a reliable signal of how fit he'll be to raise the kids, since they're derived from the same chemicals he'll use to protect his mate's eggs.
2. But humans aren't moths. Or elephants, or tigers, or ponies. Some studies have found evidence of a vomeronasal organ—the structure these mammals use to intercept pheromones, located between the nose and mouth—in humans, but it seems to be vestigial, just like the gills. Humans' complex social interactions and reliance on visual stimuli both seem to play a much larger part in attraction than anything else.
3. Human pheromones are odorless on their own. Although we're way behind most of the animal kingdom when it comes to tuning into them, we do still emit pheromones—which take on a perceptible smell when mixed with sweat. To the dismay of deodorant tycoons, more data is emerging on humans' subconscious responses to each others' smell all the time. For instance, one study concluded that women tend to prefer the scent of a men with dissimilar DNA, which, when combined with their own, might produce children with more robust immune systems.
4. It's not all about sex. "Across the animal kingdom, more interactions are mediated by pheromones than by any other kind of signal," writes Tristram D. Wyatt in Pheromones and Animal Behaviour. Baby rabbits can detect a mammary pheromone released by their mothers that induces them to perform a sort of milk-finding dance, splaying their limbs and bobbing their heads. Ants release defense-and-alarm pheromones that both repel predators and attract fellow ants from the nest. Pheromones provide an entire social infrastructure, helping members of the same species coordinate their activity by doing everything from alerting others to food to marking territory.