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

Greg Bear ursus at earthlink.net
Tue May 17 16:26:52 UTC 2005

There's an enormous amount of anecdotal and research evidence that people do
in fact enjoy dirty laundry-among other sexual scents. Why raid panties in
dorms? Why the attraction to oral sex? Why put musk and ambergris in
perfume? (Ever seen a Kodiak bear roll around in the beached and rotting
corpse of a dead whale?*) They just don't like to talk about it in public,
and apparently, neither does Mr. Pinker. Women may be more crucially
sensitive to scent than men-after all, they have to make more important
genetic decisions, since their productive capacity is much more limited. I
can't tell you how many times women have told me about choosing their
husbands because they smell good.


When Somerset Maugham asked one of  H.G. Wells's young female lovers what
she found so attractive in the short, reedy-voiced, spiky-haired fellow, she
answered, "He smells like honey."


But of course, Wells also smelled like money at that point in his career!





*Decaying blubber probably produces every sterol known to the universe.



From: paleopsych-bounces at paleopsych.org
[mailto:paleopsych-bounces at paleopsych.org] On Behalf Of JV Kohl
Sent: Tuesday, May 17, 2005 8:08 AM
To: Alice Andrews
Cc: The new improved paleopsych list
Subject: [Paleopsych] Olfaction and behavior: was What's the survival
valueof PTSD?


<http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/17/opinion/17pinker.html?th&emc=th> &emc=th
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

 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?



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
nonetheless. I hope you follow up with your inquiry to other experts.
Pheromone receptors
are present on sperm cells (presumably to guide them to the egg).



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



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

Sorry I can't be of more help, (read that your book got Jim Brody's
approval, congrats!)




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
(copulins) pheromones (type or amount)---->
affect sperm quality???
And/or 'love chemicals' in men simply affecting sperm quality etc....???


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.


----- Original Message ----- 

From: JV Kohl <mailto:jvkohl at bellsouth.net>  

To: Alice Andrews <mailto:andrewsa at newpaltz.edu>  ; The
<mailto:paleopsych at paleopsych.org>  new improved paleopsych list 

Sent: Tuesday, May 17, 2005 12:24 AM

Subject: Re: [Paleopsych] What's the survival value


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

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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