Real 'Love Potion' Identified

Flacon with perfume
Matthias Kulka/Corbis

Natural body odor plays a more important role in human mate selection than we realize, and now a new study paves the way for manufactured love potion scents that can help singles improve their chances of finding ideal mates.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that people like their own body odor, and gravitate to perfumes that match and enhance that unique smell for themselves and possible mates. This odor is recognized subconsciously, so it's not necessarily the more pungent sweat smells that emerge every so often due to bacteria, consumption of certain foods, and other contributing factors.

When purchasing perfume, "you must be very selective to find a mixture that mimics your (scent) signal, which is determined by a few genes," lead author Manfred Milinski of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, told Discovery News. "People take a long time to find 'their perfume.'"

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For the study, Milinski and his team created perfumes with synthetic molecules associated with female student volunteers. The volunteers were asked to shower using a provided soap, apply a different type of perfume to each of their armpits, and wear an untreated cotton T-shirt at night.

When later asked to evaluate each armpit's scent, the participants preferred the one with synthetic compounds that enhanced their own natural odor. They disliked the one treated with molecules associated with another person’s scent.

Brain imaging found that "self" odors activated the right middle front of the brain, a region associated with emotional balance, self-insight and more.

Humans appear to prefer their own smell and amplify that scent for others, particularly potential mates. It's somewhat comparable to lipstick, where women enhance the size, shape and color of their own features.

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