[Paleopsych] Olfaction and behavior: was What's the survival value of PTSD?

JV Kohl jvkohl at bellsouth.net
Tue May 17 15:08:01 UTC 2005

Steven Pinker writes:
"...Swedish neuroscientists scanned people's brains as they smelled a 
testosterone derivative found in men's sweat and an estrogen-like 
compound found in women's urine. In heterosexual men, a part of the 
hypothalamus (the seat of physical drives) responded to the female 
compound but not the male one; in heterosexual women and homosexual men, 
it was the other way around."
.........and, in the next paragraph................
"The role of pheromones in our sexuality must be small at best. When 
people want to be titillated or to check out a prospective partner, most 
seek words or pictures, not dirty laundry."

I take issue with Pinker's simplistic link between the understated 
unconscious affect of putative human pheromone on neuroanatomy (Savic et 
al's findings), and his preemptive conclusion that  pheromones play a 
minimal role in our sexuality. His mistake is common. As indicated by 
his words/pictures (not dirty laundry) association with sexual 
titillation, he addresses only conscious choice, and ignores the 
unconscious affect of pheromones on hormone levels (and behavior) 
throughout a lifetime of experience (as reviewed in Kohl et al 2001). 

Using similar faulty logic, Pinker could say that people are more 
interested in words describing food or pictures of food, and the role of 
food's olfactory appeal is "small at best." A logical person would not 
deny the primary role of olfaction (i.e., chemical appeal) when it comes 
to food choice. Nevertheless, when it comes to sexuality, Pinker, and 
most people do not think logically about the olfactory/chemical appeal 
of a prospective partner. Pinker's faulty logic would gives us the 
impression that words or pictures are satisfactory substitutes when it 
comes to our sexual appetite.

Alice Andrews wrote:

> Is the huge attraction to the scent something essential, i.e. about 
> 'matching' immune systems and personalities, about desiring something 
> rare/special, about desiring something disordered, about desiring 
> something that shows fitness, etc etc...? Or is it just that I 
> happened to have fallen in love with a man who happened to have had 
> these particular characteritics and smell, and now I'm locked into it 
> by association? Or a little of both?

The initial attraction is largely due to androgen associated 
reproductive fitness as manifest both in his testosterone level and in 
his masculine pheromone production.  Immune system correlates are more 
important depending on menstrual cycle phase. Once your sexual response 
cycle has been conditioned to respond to the scent of a high 
testosterone male, someone who is less chemically/reproductively fit is 
also less likely to provide a sufficiently stimulating androgenic stimulus.

> Three years ago we corresponded about love and pheromones and I got 
> your permission to post/share your responses on EP-yahoo. I'm pasting 
> here because it's pretty interesting. And exactly a year ago I wrote 
> you an email re the above question re personality and pheromones. I no 
> longer have that email, but I do have your response. Here's some of 
> it... I figure it's okay to share:

It is. But since I began this post with Pinker's comments relative to 
homosexual orientation, and you mentioned the link to the immune system, 
I will add that the sexual orientation -  immune system correlates were 
first detailed in Diamond, M., T. Binstock, J. V. Kohl  (1996). "From 
fertilization to adult sexual behavior: Nonhormonal influences on sexual 
behavior." Hormones and Behavior 30(December): 333-353.

The immune system and the olfactory system have functional similarities 
in recognition of self/non-self. Accordingly, we will be learning more 
about the immune system link to pheromone production/response and its 
link to sexual orientation. For example: Homosexuals produce natural 
body odor (e.g. pheromones) that is distinguished from heterosexual body 
odor, and homosexual prefer the natural body odor of other homosexuals.  
This extends the mammalian model for olfactory conditioning of visual 
appeal (which Pinker ignores) via genotypic and phenotypic expression to 
homosexual preferences, which lie along the same continuum as the 
preferences you now appear to be "locked into" by association.

Thanks for your interest,

Jim Kohl

> Alice Andrews wrote:
>>Is there any evidence to suggest that particular odors are signals
>>of particular personalities? Certainly high testosterone and these
>>pheromones and personality must be linked, no?
> Yes. Also, since stress increases cortisol, which decreases 
> testosterone, a confident man's
> pheromone production would be indicative of reproductive fitness. You 
> know the type; acts
> like he owns the joint, presents as an alpha male, attracts most of 
> the women.
>> The three men who share this
>>particular scent (musky, musty, almost like mildew) all have similar
>>personalities...Somewhat 'disordered' (a little boderline, narcissistic,
>>schizoid, etc.)
>>I'd be curious to know if there is anything out there on any correlation. (I
>>have not found yet.)
> Watch out for the schizoid. DHEA production varies and so does the 
> natural body odor of
> schizophrenics. In homosexual males it's the ratio of androsterone to 
> etiocholanolone, which
> are the primary metabolites of DHEA. Homosexuals prefer the odor of 
> other homosexuals (this
> will be published later this year by others).
>>  -------------------------------------------------------
> I was wondering if there's any literature on (or talk of) female 
> pheromones at ovulation
> having the capability to alter or inhibit or increase a particular 
> type of sperm-one that
> is more likely to impregnate?
> JVK:
> The egg has been described as an active sperm-catcher; pretty sure we 
> cited this in my
> book, but
> no info I've seen indicates pheromonal effects on type of sperm. This 
> is an interesting
> thought,
> nonetheless. I hope you follow up with your inquiry to other experts. 
> Pheromone receptors
> also
> are present on sperm cells (presumably to guide them to the egg).
> AA:
> If such a sperm is more 'costly' in some way to manufacture, it would 
> make sense that a
> man would 'conserve' most 'fertile,' 'viable,' 'healthy'
> sperm for when female was at her most fertile. Or perhaps it is just 
> as simple as: when a
> man detects pheromones most (or likes them most), he is
> most turned on and produces MORE semen, thus more chance for 
> fertilization to occur. And
> perhaps more normal sperm cells are present? Any
> thoughts?
> JVK:
> The literature I've seen indicates a continuum of sperm production 
> based on ratios of
> luteinizing hormone
> (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), with FSH being largely 
> responsible for
> development. However, it
> is an LH surge that accompanies both ovulation in women, and a 
> testosterone increase in
> men exposure to
> ovulatory women's pheromones (copulins). There is also some literature 
> (Sperm Wars) that
> mentions increased
> aniticipatory volume of semen, but no indications of sperm quality as 
> I recall.
> Sorry I can't be of more help, (read that your book got Jim Brody's 
> approval, congrats!)
> Jim
> ---------------------------------------------------
> AA:
> I sometimes wonder if the feelings of Love during conception could 
> possibly alter the
> quality of sperm, too...
> neurotransmitters/hormones/peptides etc in woman feeling love during 
> sex-------->affect
> (copulins) pheromones (type or amount)---->
> affect sperm quality???
> And/or 'love chemicals' in men simply affecting sperm quality 
> etc....??? Hmmm....
> JVK:
> A possibility, since many if not all neuronal systems feedback on
> the gonadotropin releasing hormone neuronal system, which drives
> everything about reproduction (and, of course, is directly affected
> by pheromones.) An example: increasing estrogen levels are linked
> to increased oxytocin release with orgasm in women. If oxytocin also
> increased with testosterone, bonding would be facilitated. Perhaps
> the bonding mechanism influences fertility. Or maybe something so
> simple as the immune system functions of paired mates adjusting to
> the ongoing presence of a mate, facilitating conception via immune
> system interaction with sperm production. Much to think about; more
> to study.
> Jim
>     ----- Original Message -----
>     From: JV Kohl <mailto:jvkohl at bellsouth.net>
>     To: Alice Andrews <mailto:andrewsa at newpaltz.edu> ; The new
>     improved paleopsych list <mailto:paleopsych at paleopsych.org>
>     Sent: Tuesday, May 17, 2005 12:24 AM
>     Subject: Re: [Paleopsych] What's the survival value
>     ofposttraumaticstressdisorder?
>     Alice,
>     I've long thought that the link between PTSD and rape is
>     olfactory. War vets response triggered by smoke;
>     women's response triggered by the natural scent of a man--or event
>     associated odors: alcohol, etc. The natural
>     scent of a man can evoke chemical changes in reproductive hormone
>     levels, which would also affect personality.
>     The association with natural masculine scent is most likely to
>     alter intimacy with a rape victim's loving spouse/lover.
>     She will respond to him, unfortunately, as her traumatized body
>     responded to the rape.
>     I wonder how much you've heard, read about the olfactory
>     connection--and how much validity you think
>     there is to it.
>     Jim Kohl
>     www.pheromones.com
>     Alice Andrews wrote:
>>     Steve wrote:
>>         Her chemistry will change, and depending on where she is
>>         developmentally (her life-history), her personality may
>>         actually change! (Pre, say, 25 years of age).
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