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Human Pheromones: Fact and Fiction

Valentine’s Day often brings hopes of romance, sometimes spurring aspiring Romeos or Juliets to seek assistance from products marketed as human pheromones. //

It’s just wishful thinking, according to George Preti, PhD and Charles Wysocki, PhD, scientists at the Monell Chemical Senses Center.

'We still have much to learn about pheromonal communication in humans. However, based on what we do know, human pheromones do not act as sex attractants,' says Wysocki, a behavioral neuroscientist. 'Effects of pheromones on adult human social behavior have never been documented in a controlled peer-reviewed setting.'

First identified in insects, pheromones are chemical substances secreted to the environment by an individual that cause a programmed response in a second individual of the same species. By definition, responses to pheromones are involuntary.

Insect pheromones can elicit well-defined responses, including overt displays of attraction and sexual behavior. Bombykol, the first chemical compound identified as a pheromone, is secreted by the female silkworm moth to entice males as potential mates.

'The general term pheromone is often linked to images of specific, rapid response and sexual attraction,' notes Preti, an organic chemist. 'Actually, pheromones are divided into classes that are defined by characteristics of the responses.'

Chemical signals that elicit immediate behaviors are described as releaser pheromones. Examples of releaser pheromones include mating attractants such as bombykol and danger-signaling alarm pheromones released by insects and mammals, which can elicit aggressive behavior or rapid withdrawal.

Primer pheromones have long-term physiological effects on the recipient, perhaps affected through changes in gene expression. Primer effects often target reproductive or developmental processes, as in the case of chemicals released by honeybee queens to stop ovary develop
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