The Psychology of Scent and Attraction You Won’t Believe

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“Fragrance so strong, even angels will fall.” We all know where these words come from. Are you offended by the “Axe Effect” ad? Sorry to pop the bubble, people, but there is science and psychology behind this ad, and there is a reason why deodorant and perfume ads are made this way.

Now don’t get carried away – angels won’t literally fall, even if you use a good cologne. But how a person smells does have a subtle effect on our subconscious.

Humans are just like other animals – we are not attracted only by nature, behavior, looks, and similarities in preference of food or movies – scent plays an important part too. Why do you think there are so many companies, even soaps, trying to add pleasant or ‘attractive’ smells to their products? 

The reason behind this is not just sexual, but biological as well, and is substantially related to the continuum of the human race and evolution.

Body Proteins and Sexual Preferences

Let’s try to understand this without diving into jargon and technical terms. To get an idea of the psychology behind this, we need to understand some basic science. I apologize in advance for all the scary terms about to come up.

Histocompatibility complex (MHC) protein or leukocyte antigen (HLA) system is a protein found on the surface of our cells. It is an important piece, too, because it is responsible for the regulation of the immune system and also detects foreign bodies in the system. All that is great, but how is it relevant to scent? I will be coming to that in just a moment.

The article, Major Histocompatibility Complex and Perfumers’ Descriptions of Human Body Odors, shows that women prefer men who have a different odor than that of theirs.

Now, if you are a woman, you may be thinking, “I don’t have any body odor!” While you may very well be right in the technical sense, the truth is far from it.

Our system tends to ignore the odor that we produce. That’s why you don’t notice it on yourself. And that is also the reason why we tend to ignore the same smell produced by others. The conclusion, thus, is that that the men who have a different odor become naturally attractive to the ladies. This is also the real reason for different smelling perfumes, deodorants, and body mists for men and women.  

This experiment was conducted on 45 male students who were asked to keep their body odor as neutral as possible for two days. That is, they were advised not to use any deodorant or perfume, which alters their natural scent. Women were then asked to smell their t-shirts (gross, I know. The things people do for science). The results were then assessed, and it was concluded that the ladies only found t-shirts of only those men pleasant-smelling who had a different MHC genotype compared to their own.

Thus, the MHC system not only detects foreign bodies and induces the immune system to attack them, but also uses this very phenomenon to detect body odors different than us. Contrary to pop culture, not all body odors are unpleasant to us. We may even be attracted by some of them, courtesy our HLAs and MHAs.

So, the next time someone comments about how terrible you smell, just remember there is someone waiting for you with a better MHC profile who will believe you smell as fresh as roses!

But there is more to body odors than romantic preferences. As mentioned in Frontiers, it also affects our professional and social life.

The Influence of HLA on Human Partnership and Sexual Satisfaction reveals that humans do not have a vomeronasal organ. This organ plays a key role in the animal kingdom in the olfactory functioning of choosing a partner. It helps in detecting odor particles, one of the many factors that help animals determine whether it’s a potential partner nearby or a predator. But since it is not present in humans, there has been an ongoing debate about exactly how women detect a particular odor to be pleasant or bad.

Scientists are still not clear about the exact mechanism, but there is no doubt that just like animals, humans, too, prefer different HLAs and MHCs.

However, studies have gone on to show that women have more neurons and glial cells than males, and they show a higher interest in smell and olfactory related functions than men.

This may be the reason why scent is so important for the ladies when it comes to romantic pairing. If you have a crush, it’s worth trying different colognes to see what works on her. Or maybe let your body odor do all the work!

The Science Behind Preferring Different Odors

It has been stated that the preference of different odors is related to evolution. People with different odors tend to produce healthier offspring. This helps them develop immune systems that are more effective against pathogens. A stronger immune system means that the species will survive longer in the future and with better resistance to diseases.    

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)  is a neurological and developmental disorder that develops during the early developmental stages. The etymology of this disease has been found to have links with lower levels of histocompatibility complex. The MHCs helps in the proper functioning of the brain. Lower levels of MHC have been linked with poor signaling pathways within the brain and decreased connectivity between synapses, which is a characteristic trait of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Hence, we can conclude that to produce biologically stronger offsprings, humans tend to get attracted to people who smell differently than themselves.

According to Frontiers, there are certain sex differences in human olfaction. Various body smell have shown behavioural changes such as increased heart rate in women. The smell of a man can also influence the mood of a woman, and thus, physical activity and arousal.

That’s not the end of the road though. The path is difficult for us, brothers. Scientifically speaking, olfactory preference of women is different during different stages of their menstruation cycle, thus changing their behaviour towards their partner. This puts men in a tough place, as you cannot find a specific way to be attractive to a particular woman.

Closing Thoughts

Body odour is greatly affected by the everyday items that we use like – soap, deodorants, perfumes, detergents and the material of the clothes that we wear. Enhancing your body odour is not only required for socializing purposes and to make a good first impression, but to survive and thrive (literally).

When you think about things that you require to attract your crush, only building your body physically, acquiring similar taste as hers and being “naturally” presentable won’t work. You have to take care of how you smell and choose your body mist wisely because it does play an important role. “It happens”, really. So, the next time you pick a deodorant or soap just like that, taking it for granted might cost you more than you think.

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