Editors' ChoicePheromone signaling

Smelling Gender

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Science Signaling  27 May 2014:
Vol. 7, Issue 327, pp. ec139
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.2005512

Although there is evidence that sex-specific human pheromones influence behavior, it has remained unclear what, if any, roles pheromones play in conveying gender information. Now Zhou et al. report that the male-specific steroid androstadienone and the female-specific steroid estratetraenol influenced test subjects’ assignment of gender to animated figures that approximate human walking motion. Subjects performed a gender assignment task while being exposed to androstadienone, estratetraenol, or carrier solution alone, and the task was repeated at the same time of day for three consecutive days so that each subject was exposed to each olfactory stimulus. The pheromones were dissolved in a clove-scented carrier solution that masked any consciously detectable odor from the pheromones. Compared to carrier alone, exposure to androstadienone increased the frequency with which heterosexual females assigned male gender to the animated figures, whereas estratetraenol had no effect on their gender judgments. Conversely, exposure to estratetraenol increased the frequency with which heterosexual males assigned female gender to the animated figures, and exposure to androstadienone had no effect on their gender judgments. Homosexual males responded to the pheromones similarly to heterosexual females, and the responses of homosexual and bisexual females lay in between the responses of heterosexual males and heterosexual females. These findings not only demonstrate that sex-specific pheromones can influence the perception of masculine and feminine traits, they also show that the interpretation of the pheromones depends upon the sexual orientation of the recipient.

W. Zhou, X. Yang, K. Chen, P. Cai, S. He, Y. Jiang, Chemosensory communication of gender through two human steroids in a sexually dimorphic manner. Curr. Biol. 24, 1091–1095 (2014). [PubMed]

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