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The impact of artificial fragrances on the assessment of mate quality cues in body odor

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Caroline AllenORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


Cultural practices may either enhance or interfere with evolved preferences as predicted by culture–gene coevolution theory. Here, we investigated the impact of artificial fragrances on the assessment of biologically relevant information in human body odor. To do this, we examined cross-sensory consistency (across faces and odors) in the perception of masculinity and femininity in men and women, and how consistency is influenced by the use of artificial fragrance. Independent sets of same and opposite-sex participants rated odor samples (with and without a fragrance, n = 239 raters), and photographs (n = 130) of 20 men and 20 women. In female, but not male raters, judgments of masculinity/femininity of non-fragranced odor and faces were correlated. However, the correlation between female ratings of male facial and odor masculinity was not evident when assessing a fragranced body odor. Further analysis also indicated that differences in ratings of male odor masculinity between men with high and low levels of facial masculinity were not present in fragranced body odor samples. This effect was absent in ratings of female odors by both female and male raters, suggesting sex-specificity in the effects of fragrance on odor perception. Our findings suggest that women may be more attentive to these odor cues, and therefore also to disruption of this information through fragrance use. Our results show that cultural practices might both enhance and interfere with evolved preferences.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Allen C, Cobey KD, Havlicek J, Roberts SC

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Evolution and Human Behavior

Year: 2016

Volume: 37

Issue: 6

Pages: 481-489

Print publication date: 01/11/2016

Online publication date: 11/05/2016

Acceptance date: 04/05/2016

Date deposited: 19/06/2018

ISSN (print): 1090-5138

Publisher: Elsevier


DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2016.05.001


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