Women can tell the dominance of a prospective partner just by sniffing his body odour, suggest researchers.
Women can tell the dominance of a prospective partner just by sniffing his body odour, suggest researchers. Unsavoury as it might sound, these smells might even help women choose the father for their children, they say.
Several studies suggest that women infer much information from a man’s body odour. Women seem to be attracted to the scent of men with symmetrical features, for example. This preference appears to be strongest among women at the most fertile point in their menstrual cycle.
Nobody has yet studied whether a man’s body odour could reveal how dominant he is, says Jan Havilicek, an anthropologist at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. ’In animals, a key trait in a female’s choice of sexual partner is male dominance,’ he and his colleagues note. ’Odour cues may also play a substantial role in human mate choice.’
The researchers used a questionnaire to rank a group of male students on their dominance. The students then spent a day with cotton pads under their armpits and instructions not to eat any spicy or smelly food, drink alcohol or smoke while the pads were in place.
Women then got the chance to sniff ’freshly collected pads’ and rate the sexiness of the odour. There was a positive correlation between dominance and sexiness, but only for women at peak fertility who were in stable relationships.
The explanation for this correlation and the chemistry that lies behind it remain a mystery. But Havilicek and his colleagues suggest that women in stable relationships could use this cue to identify males that are more dominant and therefore of better genetic quality than their long-term partner. This kind of preference might result in more viable offspring, they conclude. Henry Nicholls
Biology Letters (Doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2005.0332)