‘Pheromones’- weird word, even weirder concept. They’re chemical substances (not so weird) that are secreted outside of the body via, for example, our sweat and urine (very weird).
In terms of how pheromones ‘work’, they do so as they are: first secreted by one organism, via the skin, before they’re detected, as unconscious odour cues, by another. This consequently triggers a social response as ‘signals’ are passed from individual to individual, acting as a hidden form of communication/affecting the nervous system subconsciously.
There are actually four types of pheromone; releaser pheromones, primer pheromones, signaler pheromones, and modulator pheromones.
Firstly, releaser pheromones– Releaser pheromones elicit an immediate response and are, usually, linked to sexual attraction.
In contrast, primer pheromones take longer to get a response than the former (releaser pheromones), and usually involve our development or reproduction physiology, including menstrual cycles in females, puberty, and the success or failure of pregnancy.
Next, signaler pheromones– these provide information by giving out our ‘genetic odor print.’ They may help moths to recognise their newborn by scent, for example.
Finally, modulator pheromones can either alter or synchronise ones bodily functions, usually via our sweat. In animal experiments, scientists found that when placed on the upper lip of females, women become less tense and more relaxed. Modulator hormones may also affect a woman’s monthly cycle.
A uniting factor between all four types of pheromone is where they are most commonly found- in the axillary glands (i.e., the armpits). Why are they mostly found under the arms? Because their warmth accelerates the release of compounds into the air (via sweat), and also, because they are located at the nose level of other people, thus ‘speeding up’ the process. It is for these reasons stated that explain why people take comfort from having a loved ones arm around them, for example.
Another uniting factor between them all is what effect they most commonly have regarding hormonal changes. The most widely recognised hormonal change, as triggered by pheromones, is the occurrence of ‘period syncing’- a bizarre phenomenon which sees close contact between people who menstruate leading to their monthly cycles ‘lining up’, as proven by the results of a 1971 research study.
In the research study mentioned above, conducted by American Psychologist Martha McClintock and involving a group of menstruating women, it was highlighted how, when exposed to a scent of sweat from other women, the menstrual cycle of the group as a collective either accelerated or slowed down, depending on whether the sweat was collected before, during, or after ovulation. Scientists involved in the study said that the pheromone collected before ovulation shortened the ovarian cycle, whereas the pheromone collected during ovulation lengthened it. Such results consequently led to the ‘McClintock effect’ being founded, whereby it was suggested that pheromones can, and do, lead to ‘period syncing’ amongst people who menstruate.
Far from just influencing our monthly cycles though, pheromones impact upon many aspects of, not just our lives as human beings, but also the lives of every other animal on the planet, too. From raising alarms to alert each other to danger, to signaling a ‘food trail’, pheromones are absolutely fascinating things, ‘magical‘, even, helping us to help each other to survive the test of time here on Earth.
Although most people associate pheromones with influencing others, they can also influence us personally (sending alerts to danger, for example). Have you ever had a ‘gut feeling’ that something just ‘isn’t quite right?’ Those instincts are your pheromones ‘in action’, it can be argued.
It can also be argued that such instincts, such pheromones, are from a metaphysical/spiritual realm, existing outside of our 5 senses, outside of our realm of consciousness, outside of all that we’ve known to be ‘true.’
How fascinating our bodies truly are. And, how exciting it is that there is evidently so much more to our existence than we realise…