Subliminally Perceived Odours Modulate Female Intrasexual Competition An Eye Movement Study


Background Evidence suggests that subliminal odorants influence human perception and behavior. It has been hypothesized that the human sex-steroid derived compound 4,16-androstadien-3-one (androstadienone) functions as a human chemosignal. The most intensively studied steroid compound, androstadienone is known to be biologically relevant since it seems to convey information about male mate quality to women. It is unclear if the effects of androstadienone are menstrual cycle related. Methodology/Principal Findings In the first experiment, heterosexual women were exposed to androstadienone or a control compound and asked to view stimuli such as female faces, male faces and familiar objects while their eye movements were recorded. In the second experiment the same women were asked to rate the level of stimuli attractiveness following exposure to the study or control compound. The results indicated that women at high conception risk spent more time viewing the female than the male faces regardless of the compound administered. Women at a low conception risk exhibited a preference for female faces only following exposure to androstadienone. Conclusions/Significance We contend that a woman’s level of fertility influences her evaluation of potential competitors (e.g., faces of other women) during times critical for reproduction. Subliminally perceived odorants, such as androstadienone, might similarly enhance intrasexual competition strategies in women during fertility phases not critical for conception. These findings offer a substantial contribution to the current debate about the effects that subliminally perceived body odors might have on behavior.

PLoS ONE, 7(2), e30645
Valentina Parma
Valentina Parma
Research Assistant Professor in Psychology