A lesser role for olfaction and pheromones in humans?

By: James V. Kohl | Published on: April 25, 2011

From time to time I find articles that cite my published works. This is the most recent article to do so. Pheromones in sex and reproduction: Do they have a role in humans?
Concluding sentences: “In mammals, olfaction plays a major role in sexual attraction, excitement and even in triggering ovulation. However, in humans, because of their large and complex brains, it plays a minor role and is significantly supplanted by vision and/or fantasy in men and by hearing and/or touch in women. Also, although olfaction alters the neuroendocrine balance in mammals, olfaction is altered by hormones in humans.”
It may interest others to read this review (the full text is available online for free) and attempt to determine how the authors concluded that humans are very different from other mammals. There has never been any scientific support for statements about comparative neuroanatomy (e.g., brain size and complexity) that challenge the known importance either of food odors or of social odors to mammalian behavior. Both food odors and social odors (called pheromones) alter the neuroendocrine balance in mammals and these alterations are the determinants of food choice and social choice, which include food preferences, social preferences, and even sexual preferences.
In 2001, we wrote:  “We have addressed several aspects of what is consciously perceived to be visual attraction both from an ethological and neuroendocrinological approach. In other mammals, the olfactory link among hormones, pheromones, and a conspecific’s hormones and behavior would readily establish that visually perceived facial attractiveness, bodily symmetry, attractive WHRs, and genetically determined HLA attractiveness, are due to the neuroendocrinological conditioning of visual responsivity to olfactory stimuli.”
A decade later, the most recent review cites Kohl et al (2001) but ignores our conclusion and continues to posit a lesser role for olfaction in humans than in other mammals.

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