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Research: Women Biologically Attuned to Male Body Odors

Posted: April 7, 2009

Women are more sensitive to underarm odor, even when masked by a product, than men, according to new research from the Monell Center (Philadelphia).* “It is quite difficult to block a woman’s awareness of body odor. In contrast, it seems rather easy to do so in men,” said study lead author and behavioral neuroscientist Charles Wysocki. "Biologically attuned" impulses related to mate selection may be the reason for the sensitivity, the researchers noted.

According to the official release:

In the study, women and men rated the strength of underarm odors, both alone and in conjunction with various fragrances. The fragrances were selected to test their ability to block underarm odor through a method known as cross-adaptation ... Sniffed alone, the underarm odors smelled equally strong to men and women. When fragrance was introduced, only two of 32 scents successfully blocked underarm odor when women were doing the smelling; in contrast, 19 fragrances significantly reduced the strength of underarm odor for men.

“Taken together," said Wysocki, "our studies indicate that human sweat conveys information that is of particular importance to females. This may explain why it is so difficult to block women’s perception of sweat odors.”

The study also found that male odors were more difficult to block than female odors. Just 19% of the fragrances used in the study successfully reduced the strength of male underarm odor; in contrast, over 50% decreased intensity of female underarm odor.

“Men and women differ in how they perceive body odors from both their own and the opposite sex,” said Monell scientist and analytical organic chemist George Preti. “Women are more aware of underarm odor and they appear to be detecting differences in odor quality.”

*Also contributing to the research were Monell researchers Jennifer Louie and Manjindar Gill; James Leyden (University of Pennsylvania); David Blank (Dartmouth College); Les Smith (Coty Inc.); and Keith McDermott (Symrise Inc.).