I keep running into fascinating articles that The Economist ran over the Christmas period and this one is no exception – it covers research that suggests that men’s deodorants do increase sexual attractiveness, but by increasing confidence and hence the behaviour of the wearer. The smell alone seems to have little impact on women.
Craig Roberts of the University of Liverpool and his colleagues‚Äîworking with a team from Unilever‚Äôs research laboratory at nearby Port Sunlight‚Äîhave been investigating the problem. They already knew that appropriate scents can improve the mood of those who wear them. What they discovered, though, as they will describe in a forthcoming edition of the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, is that when a man changes his natural body odour it can alter his self-confidence to such an extent that it also changes how attractive women find him.
Half of Dr Roberts‚Äôs volunteers were given an aerosol spray containing a commercial formulation of fragrance and antimicrobial agents. The other half were given a spray identical in appearance but lacking active ingredients. The study was arranged so that the researchers did not know who had received the scent and who the dummy. Each participant obviously knew what he was spraying on himself, since he could smell it. But since no one was told the true purpose of the experiment, those who got the dummy did not realise they were being matched against people with a properly smelly aerosol.
Over the course of several days, Dr Roberts‚Äôs team conducted a battery of psychological tests on both groups of volunteers. They found that those who had been given the commercial fragrance showed an increase in self-confidence. Not that surprising, perhaps. What was surprising was that their self-confidence improved to such an extent that women who could watch them but not smell them noticed. The women in question were shown short, silent videos of the volunteers. They deemed the men wearing the deodorant more attractive. They were, however, unable to distinguish between the groups when shown only still photographs of the men, suggesting it was the men‚Äôs movement and bearing, rather than their physical appearance, that was making the difference.
The abstract of the actual study (I don’t have access to the full-text unfortunately) also reports that non-verbal attractiveness (presumably, sexiness of ‘body language’) was predicted by the men’s liking of the deodorant, independent of their facial attractiveness.
The researchers conclude by highlighting the remarkable influence of personal odour on self-perception, and how this can even influence how others perceive us, even when they can’t actually smell the scent.
The Economist article also discusses the link between natural scent, genetic and pheromones, and sexual allure. An intriguing article and an excellent study.