Those receptors rocket the smell directly to the brain, a much quicker route than other senses take.
Scientists can also expose lab animals to bodily secretions that would be far too unseemly to use in human studies.These pheromones shape the social and sexual lives of some creatures, like invertebrates, insects and rodents, by attracting them towards evolutionarily compatible partners, which are desirable because they lead to better offspring.In these animals, genes in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC)—part of the immune system—produce unique odors; when another animal gets a whiff, they’re either attracted or repelled based on immune compatibility.So they asked men in the community to give up deodorant and wear T-shirts for a few days—much like how NYU’s Smell Dating works—and took note of which shirts the women liked.Their odor preferences were indeed linked to the partner having just the right kind of HLA. “There are so many things going on with humans, in terms of how you select somebody you want to be with or get married to or have children with,” says Gary Beauchamp, emeritus director and president of the Monell Chemical Senses Center.The romantic part of me still can’t help thinking that smell communicates something deeper than what we can see, touch, hear or taste.
“The underlying theory is that you somehow select immune compatibility in a mate,” says Noam Sobel, an expert in olfaction and professor of neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.
A small but growing trend in social media is to go nose first when it comes to romance: whether by throwing get-togethers that hook people up based on the smell of their T-shirt, like Pheromone Parties, or by matching people based on how similarly they smell the world, like the Israeli social network Smell Space.
Whether interventions like these are successful is a current area of research.
Researchers agree that our sense of smell is important to human relationships, and that we are hard-wired to be drawn to people whose scent we like—be it from a bottle or their armpits.
But the idea that humans emit invisible chemicals that could drive us to a partner is hardly the consensus today. My first boyfriend had a smell I haven’t been able to shake years later, like dirt and earth and just-wet soil.
They cut my T-shirt into swatches, stuffed them inside little zip-top bags and mailed them to 10 people who’d also signed up for this bizarre social experiment.