Pheromones are chemical messengers used to exchange information between animals, insects, and humans.
The word pheromone is derived from the Greek words pherein and hormon which translate as ‘carrier of excitement’. The term was first introduced by German biochemist Peter Karlson and Swiss entomologist Martin Luscher in 1959.
The existence of these chemical messengers was discovered by Adolph Butenandt when he investigated how female moths attract male mates. He was looking for a way to control the populations of insects by limiting reproduction. After nearly 30 years of crushing the abdominal tips of moths and extracting the chemicals within, he discovered the substance that was causing the males to be attracted. It was a kind of alcohol that Butenandt christened bombykol, after the moth’s Latin name, Bombyx mori.
After Butenandt’s success with moths, others began to wonder if other species used pheromones to communicate.
Not all pheromones are related to sexual behavior. Some are used to mark territory or leave trails for other species members to follow. Pheromones that are related to sexual behavior are called sex pheromones.
How Your Nose Detects Pheromones
In 1813, Ludvig Jacobson discovered an auxiliary olfactory sense organ found in the noses of many animals, called the vomeronasal organ (VNO).
This organ is believed to be responsible for detecting pheromones in the air. It then sends a message to the brain so that the animal can respond accordingly.
VNOs in insects, mice, and larger mammals only respond to a few molecules, most of these are specific to the opposite sex of their species. Receptors in the VNO do not send signals into the olfactory bulb of the brain. Instead, receptor cells extend axons into the hypothalamus and amygdala, two primitive parts of the brain involved in hormone control and sexual response. In other words, pheromones affect us unconsciously.
Learn more about how do human pheromones work. It was believed that humans no longer had VNOs. But studies have shown that the VNO is still present and could be how we detect sex pheromones.
Pheromones Can Change Moods
In 1991 a biochemist by the name of Dr. David Berliner made an interesting observation in his lab.
“While studying the chemistry of human skin, Berliner had discovered a mysterious skin extract that, when left open to the air, put his lab workers in uncharacteristically good moods.”
Following detailed chemical analysis on male and female skin extracts, Berliner found that two unscented steroid compounds were triggering an electrical response in the human VNO. The two steroid compounds were found to be sex-specific in production as well as detection. Female VNOs were activated only in the presence of the male-specific compound, androstadienone, and male VNO’s were similarly specific to the female-specific estratetraenol.
Androstadienone is believed to have a similar effect to natural pheromones when it comes to attracting females. It can’t directly alter behavior, but it can alter mood which in term has an effect on behavior. For example, a person who feels confident and happy when they are around you is more likely to become more intimate with you than someone who is unhappy or bored.
Androstadienone is often included in pheromone products to increase their effectiveness, so make sure you look for this when buying.
More Pheromone Studies
Be sure to check out other pheromone studies conducted by Luis Monti-Bloch, George Preti, Astrid Jtte and Winnifred B. Cutler.