Monday, August 22, 2011

Smell and social behaviour

Two interesting studies:

Gender differences and similarity in personality and social behaviour Ros Barnett (2004)

Over a wide range of personality and social variables, there is much evidence of gender similarities. For the Big Five personality dimensions, there is no gender difference in openness to experience (d=.03) and small differences in conscientiousness (-.13), extraversion or gregariousness (-.14), and neuroticism (-.25); there is, however, a large difference in one aspect of agreeableness, termed tendermindedness or nurturance (-.97). The gender difference in self-esteem is small (.21). Likewise, there are many gender similarities in the realm of social behavior. The direction of the gender difference in helping behavior depends largely on the situation. In small groups, men and women are similar in their instrumental and expressive behaviors. The gender difference in democratic vs. autocratic leadership style is small (-.22 for democratic style). The research evidence does not support popular media claims about enormous gender differences in language use. The gender difference in self-disclosure is small (-.18). There are several exceptions to this pattern of gender similarities. Gender differences are moderately large for aggression (.50), smiling (-.63), and sensitivity to nonverbal cues (-.52).


Scent of a Woman: Men’s Testosterone Responses to Olfactory Ovulation Cues

Women around the world spend billions of dollars each year on exotic smelling perfumes and lotions in the hopes of attracting a mate. However, according to a new study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, going "au natural" may be the best way to capture a potential mate's attention.

Smells are known to be critical to animal mating habits: Animal studies have shown that male testosterone levels are influenced by odor signals emitted by females, particularly when they are ovulating (that is, when they are the most fertile). Psychological scientists Saul L. Miller and Jon K. Maner from Florida State University wanted to see if a similar response occurs in humans. In two studies, women wore tee shirts for 3 nights during various phases of their menstrual cycles. Male volunteers smelled one of the tee shirts that had been worn by a female participant. In addition, some of the male volunteers smelled control tee shirts that had not been worn by anyone. Saliva samples for testosterone analysis were collected before and after the men smelled the shirts.

Results revealed that men who smelled tee shirts of ovulating women subsequently had higher levels of testosterone than men who smelled tee shirts worn by non-ovulating women or men who smelled the control shirts. In addition, after smelling the shirts, the men rated the odors on pleasantness and rated the shirts worn by ovulating women as the most pleasant smelling.

The authors note that "the present research is the first to provide direct evidence that olfactory cues to female ovulation influence biological responses in men." In other words, this study suggests that testosterone levels may be responsive to smells indicating when a woman is fertile. The authors conclude that this biological response may promote mating-related behavior by males.