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Title: The artificially scented ape: Investigating the role of fragrances and body odours in human interactions
Author(s): Allen, Caroline
Supervisor(s): Roberts, S Craig
Little, Anthony
Keywords: Olfaction
Human mate choice
Body odour
Issue Date: 6-Nov-2015
Publisher: University of Stirling
Citation: Allen, C., Havlíček, J., & Roberts, S. C. (2015). Effect of fragrance use on discrimination of individual body odor. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1115.
Abstract: It was long believed that humans were unable to utilise the odours of conspecifics to co-ordinate social interactions in ways in which other species appear to be capable. However, a surge in interest in human social olfaction has recently challenged this view. The numerous studies conducted in this area have found that multiple state and trait related cues can be detected in body odour. Furthermore, many studies indicate that women are often more sensitive to these cues, and that sensitivity can be associated with fertility, findings that are consistent with sex differences in reproductive effort and benefits of choosiness in mate-searching. Since previous studies in this area have usually addressed the potential for humans to use olfactory communication in a comparable manner to other mammals, they typically involve collection and assessment of ‘natural’ odour. That is, they explicitly exclude the possibility of ‘contamination’ of odour samples by artificial fragrances. However, humans have used artificial fragrances for millennia, across many different cultures. This raises the question of whether widespread fragrance use may affect or disrupt the detection of this information in modern humans. The first aim of this thesis was to address this question by investigating how fragrance use may mediate the detection of olfactory information in humans. As well as providing further evidence for sex differences in the assessment of olfactory cues, and for the role of olfaction in real world partner choice, the findings herein suggest that fragrance may act differently on different information being assessed, potentially masking accurate assessment of certain traits (such as masculinity), while fragrance choice and preferences may be important in complementing other olfactory information (such as the general distinguishability of an individuals’ odour profile). A second aim of the thesis was to develop a scale in order to more accurately describe the varying perceptual qualities of human body odour – in other words to map human body odours. This work was conducted alongside perfumers in order to benefit from their expertise in olfactory perception and semantic labelling of odours. The development of such a scale could enable improved understanding of the perceptual qualities of human odour, making it possible to link specific perceptual qualities to specific cues (e.g. symmetry, masculinity, sex) or to manipulate odours based on perceptual qualities in experimental settings, and has direct practical implications for fragrance designers and for improving the ability of individuals to choose fragrance products that suit their odour profile. The second section of the thesis focuses on the effects of odours on the individual wearer as well as on perceivers in the environment. One study is presented which investigates the role of malodour reduction compared to the addition of fragrances in perceptions of confidence and attractiveness, finding that both the reduction of malodour and the addition of fragrance appear to be important for confidence as rated by others in the environment. The final study presented in the thesis examines a hitherto un-investigated role of olfaction during human pregnancy. The rationale for the study is based on evidence suggesting that in certain non-human species, which also show bi-parental care of offspring, there may be a role for chemical, or odour based, communication which underpins behavioural and endocrinological changes related to infant care behaviours in males. The study found little evidence to support the presence of analogous olfactory signalling during human pregnancy, though the findings are discussed in light of methodological changes which, if made in future studies, may result in different outcomes. The thesis concludes with a discussion of the importance of continuing to investigate various forms of olfactory communication, as well as improving our understanding of odours through the mapping of their perceptual qualities, and finally further examining the ways in which various fragranced products, which are widely used in society, may affect all of this. Future directions for this area of research are discussed. This line of investigation will, I argue, enable us to finally establish the true role of olfaction in contemporary social environments.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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