“I just can’t get him off my mind!” Love really is a powerful thing and it seems that smell may play an important role in it!

Although it is common to say “he (or she) is so cute,” researchers have found that smell plays an important role in the art of attraction for both animals and humans.

Did You Know?
Before it was modified into a kiss in the Western world, the Eskimo kiss was known not just as the rubbing of noses but a mutual sniffing.

Humans are attracted by smells, it seems. Although scientists don’t know for sure, it is known that women can ‘smell’ genetic compatibility and, thus, suitable men for them. Smell plays an important role not only in attraction, but also in how much attention women pay to other males who are not their partner.

Recently, two researchers, Johan Lundstrom and Marilyn Jones-Gotman, at McGill University, ran an experiment where they asked a group of 20 young women to pick out their boyfriend’s or a friend’s worn t-shirt from three different t-shirts. (The other two T-shirts were worn by strangers). Interestingly, they discovered that these women were generally unable to distinguish between their boyfriend’s t-shirt or their girl friend’s t-shirt. However, the more in love they rated themselves to be, the less able they were to pick out the T-shirt that was worn by a guy friend. In other words, it seems that being in love shifts our attention (or at least smell) away from other potential boyfriends.

These research findings support the “deflection” theory, according to which being in love with someone means that we pay less attention to other possible romantic partners. More research needs to be done on gender differences and whether men would respond to smell differently, though some studies do suggest that men don’t have the same capacity to identify smells.

Did You Know?
A faint trace of lemon makes people think they’re a lot healthier than they really are.

But humans aren’t the only ones who are affected by smell; some animals are solely attracted through smells! Take elephants for instance. The female elephant comes into an ‘estrus’ (or heat) for about five straight days during the year. If she conceives during this time, her sexuality is suppressed for about four years so that she can take care of her new baby. Since this is a long time, they tend to be picky about who they choose to mate with.

Now here’s the catch: an ideal mating partner for a female elephant is one who sweats… a lot! Sweats? Really? Every year, a male elephant comes into something known as “musth” during which his reproductive hormones are higher and he begins to discharge a thick fluid from the sides of the head. He dribbles urine continually and his smell is so strong that female elephants can smell him before they see him. Sounds like an awesome date? And he is – for her.

Did You Know?
Lavender incense contributes to a pleasant mood—but it lowers mathematical abilities.

It seems that regardless of whether we are human or animals, smell is an important part of romantic attraction. I know several women who like to sleep in their sweetheart’s t-shirt because they like its smell. Movies, books, and media in general all portray people being attracted to someone’s smell. Jennifer Aniston once said, “The best smell in the world is that man that you love.” It seems that noses can sniff more than we think!

Article first published February 7, 2009

Read about it!!!

Fisher, H. (2004). Why we love: The nature and chemistry of romantic love. New York:Henry Holt and Company.

Furlow, F.B. (1996). Why do some people smell better to you? A look at how human body odor influences sexual attraction [Electronic version]. Psychology Today.

Lundstrom, J.N., & Jones-Gotmanc, M. (2008). Romantic love modulates women’s identification of men's body odors. Hormones and Behavior, 10.

Marina Veprinska, Writer

Marina is currently working on her Ph.D in clinical-developmental psychology at York University. Her research includes adolescent romantic relationships and she has always been fascinated by the topic of love and attraction. In her spare time she loves to read, listen to tin-pan-alley, and hang out with her family and friends.


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