Throughout the animal kingdom, it has been discovered that scent plays a huge role in mate selection and the overall reproductive process. The odors produced by many different species of animals, including (but not limited to) deer, felines, and canines, signal to members of the opposite sex that they are ready for mating. These odors can be smelled by the opposite sex from miles away in some cases, and they can entice even the most loyal pet companions to break free from their homes in search of a mate. The prevalence of scent in mating in the world of animals has led humans to ask questions about the role of scent in human mate selection. Surprisingly, studies have found that there is a connection between scent and sexual attraction between human beings. While the phenomenon certainly is not the only factor that is considered when it comes to human mate selection, it is believed that scent can subconsciously decide whether or not another person is considered to be attractive as a mating partner.
Scientific Reasoning Behind Scent Attraction
As a whole, it seems as if the scientific world is divided when it comes to the connection between scent and sexual attraction. Some scientists argue that like other mammals, humans release a substance known as pheromones that can entice mates and cause other reactions in humans. Scientists that feel as if human pheromones exist believe that they have found enough evidence to prove this phenomenon. Others who are skeptical of the concept, however, believe that there is not enough significant evidence of pheromone secretion in humans.
While there are many skeptics, believers in human pheromones and scent attraction feel that the human body subconsciously finds compatible mates more attractive based purely on their scent. In 1995, a Swiss biological researcher by the name of Claus Wedekind performed one of the most popular experiments in an effort to prove the existence of a connection between scent and attraction. Wedekind recruited a group of men and had them wear a T-shirt for two days without the use of hygiene products or showering. When the two days were over, Wedekind placed the sweaty shirts in boxes and had different women smell each of the shirts. During the experiment, Wedekind found that some women preferred some of the men's odors over others. Further research found that a set of molecules in the body known as the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) played a large role in determining which scent was more preferable. The women largely preferred the scent of men whose MHC was the most different from their own. It is thought that these women were able to interpret this MHC information through scent alone.
Although the theory of scent and attraction comes up a lot when it comes to sexual attraction, it is thought that the body works in similar ways to identify other attractions. One of the most widely discussed and accepted scent-related attractions is the one that exists between a newborn baby and its mother. It is thought that newborn babies are able to recognize their mother based on their scent, and likewise, mothers are able to distinguish their newborn babies from others with the help of their sense of smell.
Psychological Connection Between Attraction and Scent
It is widely believed that people are able to evoke certain emotions through scent. For instance, the smell of lavender can relax a person into a stress-free slumber, and the scent of a home-cooked meal may transport a person through memory back to their mother's kitchen. This is because the sense of smell is connected to the emotional portion of the brain. Due to this connection, a smell can evoke a memory or a past experience, and unfamiliar smells can create new feelings or a sense of uneasiness. Much in the same manner, that scent is connected to memory and feelings, it is believed that the same is true of scent and attraction. While a person may be attracted to another person's scent because they smell familiar, they may also find themselves attracted to a scent for reasons they are unable to identify. This may be related to a subconscious psychological reaction to the scent of the other's MHC. Although the person will not actively understand that they are attracted to this complex, it is believed that their subconscious is able to determine that the individual is healthy and that their DNA is compatible with their own for creating healthy offspring. Likewise, this attraction also applies to newborns and their mothers. The scent of a newborn's mother may initiate a feeling of safety, comfort, and relaxation on a subconscious level. Mothers may also feel this same sense of relaxation upon smelling their baby. Although a lot of the specific reasons behind scent and attraction have yet to be discovered, it is no surprise that people are naturally drawn to some scents more than others.