In yet another indication that human olfactory responses can completely bypass our conscious thought process, a study at Florida State University has shown that the natural scent of an ovulating woman can boost the testosterone levels of men exposed to that scent. In research published in Psychological Science, FSU scientists Saul L. Miller and Jon K. Maner showed that humans still process olfactory cues:

Men in the current studies smelled T-shirts worn by women near ovulation or far from ovulation (Studies 1 and 2) or control T-shirts not worn by anyone (Study 2). Men exposed to the scent of an ovulating woman subsequently displayed higher levels of testosterone than did men exposed to the scent of a nonovulating woman or a control scent. Hence, olfactory cues signaling women’s levels of reproductive fertility were associated with specific endocrinological responses in men—responses that have been linked to sexual behavior and the initiation of romantic courtship. [From Psychological ScienceScent of a Woman: Men’s Testosterone Responses to Olfactory Ovulation Cues.

There are several Neuromarketing takeaways from this research. First, the findings show that humans aren’t so evolved that we can’t process olfactory cues like other mammals, though we are likely less aware of those cues. While the subjects rated the T-shirts worn by ovulating women as more pleasant smelling than the other groups of shirts, there’s no indication that they consciously recognized the scent as being that of a fertile female.

Second, this is one small study evaluating a single scent category. There can be no doubt that other scents are hardwired into our brains and can evoke specific physiological or psychological changes. Developing a library of such scents could make for some interesting olfactory marketing opportunities.

Finally, one has to presume that perfume makers are working to exploit this finding. The entire industry is based on attraction, and the thought of synthesizing the compounds that caused the male reactions in the FSU study has to be immensely appealing. I suppose the true Holy Grail of the fragrance industry would be a male scent that triggered a physiological response in women. Products claiming to do this have been marketed for decades, but they have been based on animal pheromones and other compounds not directly proven effective. A product based on sound research could be a blockbuster.

Fragrance developers and olfactory marketers, start your engines!

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