The role of olfaction in human social interactions

Murray, Alice
The role of olfaction in human social interactions. Doctor of Philosophy thesis, University of Liverpool.

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Olfactory signals are generally regarded as the oldest and most widespread form of communication across taxa. They can play an important role in the mediation of social interactions, reproductive status and warning of danger, whilst also signalling more fixed genetic factors such as the major histocompatability complex, which is linked to inbreeding avoidance. Little is known of the role odour might play in humans, although there is some indication that humans may be influenced by a family of androgen steroids called the 16-androstenes, produced in axillary odour. Here I aim to identify the role of androstene compounds in humans, as well as body odour as a whole, using two theoretical frameworks based on intersexual and intrasexual signalling. Evidence is found to suggest androstadienone (“AND”, a putative male pheromone) and male odour (a composite sample of axillary sweat) may be having a suppressive effect on males. Men exposed to AND feel less attractive and potentially behave less attractive too, as judged by third-party raters. In a physical performance test, male odour is found to have a similar suppressing effect, with exposure being linked to decreased men’s performance in a cycling time trial and aspects of a 30-second cycling sprint test. In contrast, women exhibited stimulatory responses to the male odour, not AND. An analytical assessment of male odour was carried out, in an effort to link androstene profiles to aspects of phenotypic quality and socially relevant traits. Cluster analysis revealed that men’s odour profiles fell into two groups, which in turn could be explained by relationship status. In essence, single men have different compounds in their odour to men in a relationship. Furthermore, the odour of single men appears to be preferred by women. Exposure to solutions based on these two groups had sex specific effects on the receiver. In conclusion, the results highlight the novel possibility of human male intra-sexual signalling, whilst providing the only empirical evidence of odour chemistry links with social function in humans; paving the way for further investigations in this field.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy)
Additional Information: Date: 2013-01-03 (completed)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Olfaction, pheromones, human behaviour
Divisions: Faculty of Health and Life Sciences
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 05 Sep 2013 10:37
Last Modified: 16 Dec 2022 04:38
DOI: 10.17638/00010953
  • Lycett, John
  • Roberts, Craig