On Wednesday, four scientists reported that androstadienone (AND) and estratetraenol (EST), two naturally-occurring steroids widely thought to boost sexual attraction, have no effect on "mate perception."
Many perfumes promise a magnetic effect on potential mates, but the researchers, writing in the Royal Society Open Science journal, noted that this is probably all a case of marketing and placebo, noting, "AND and EST are unlikely to be human pheromones."
In two lab experiments, Robin M. Hare, Sophie Schlatter, Gillian Rhodes and Leigh W. Simmons tested 94 heterosexual women and men, first asking participants the sex of a "gender-neutral" face generated by combining many photos of men and women.
Participants then rated the attractiveness of the faces and whether they thought that person was likely to commit adultery, a factor typically considered when choosing a mate.
According to the abstract, "If AND and EST truly signal gender, then they should affect reproductively relevant behaviours such as mate perception."
The researchers found that EST and AND had no effect on participants’ choices, as true pheromones would have. Previous research shows that sexual interest is influenced in part by smell, with heterosexual women often reporting that a man’s scent can be more important than his looks.
"Exposure to the putative pheromones had no effect on either attractiveness or unfaithfulness ratings. These results are consistent with those of other experimental studies and reviews that suggest AND and EST are unlikely to be human pheromones. The double-blind nature of the current study lends increased support to this conclusion. If human sex pheromones affect our judgements of gender, attractiveness or unfaithfulness from faces, they are unlikely to be AND or EST," the abstract said.
Expensive fragrances often market EST as a female pheromone and AND as a male pheromone, despite there being no scientific basis for the claims.
The team said, "We recommend a return to first principles in the search for human pheromones," calling for trials to be entrusted to scientists, instead of perfume labs.