Monday, September 17, 2007

Smellin' and Lookin' Good

In my RSS feeds regarding biology and other sciences, I read intricate articles about the inner-workings of cells, the smashing of atoms in space, and other, less deep scientific studies. Here are two such studies:
Gene determines whether male body odor smells pleasant. New research from Rockefeller University, performed in collaboration with scientists at Duke University in North Carolina, reveals for the first time that this extreme variability in people's perception of androstenone is due in large part to genetic variations in a single odorant receptor called OR7D4. The research is reported September 16 as an advance online publication of the journal Nature.
In effect, the particular version of OR7DR that you possess causes you to either cringe when next to a sweaty man or to inhale deeper. I inhale deeper, but mostly around Phill. I adore his sweaty smell.

Later in the Biology News Net article we understand the implications of this research.
"There are two independent things that are interesting about this odor," says first co-author Keller. "One is that it is a potential social signal but the other one is that so many people cannot smell it."

Two additional point mutations in some of the participants influenced their sensitivity to androstenone, one of which may make humans hypersensitive to this odor. Vosshall and Keller are interested in what it is about these amino acid changes that alter one's perception of androstenone's scent, and in whether one's perception of this potent compound can influence behavior.

"Since some mammals clearly use androstenone to communicate sexuality and dominance within a social hierarchy, it's intriguing to think whether the same thing may happen in humans," Vosshall says. "If so, what happens to humans who can't get the signal because they have the nonfunctional copy of the gene" Or the hyperfunctional one" What could be the social and sexual implications of this on one's perception of the smell of fellow humans."

As for the visual part of us?
Whether we are seeking a mate or sizing up a potential rival, good-looking people capture our attention nearly instantaneously and render us temporarily helpless to turn our eyes away from them, according to a new Florida State University study.

Blinding you with science, huh? Or beauty? Or jealousy?

In a series of three experiments, Maner and his colleagues found that the study participants, all heterosexual men and women, fixated on highly attractive people within the first half of a second of seeing them. Single folks ogled the opposite sex, of course, but those in committed relationships also checked people out, with one major difference: They were more interested in beautiful people of the same sex.

"If we're interested in finding a mate, our attention gets quickly and automatically stuck on attractive members of the opposite sex," Maner said. "If we're jealous and worried about our partner cheating on us, attention gets quickly and automatically stuck on attractive people of our own sex because they are our competitors."

Maner's research is based on the idea that, through processes of biological evolution, our brains have been designed to strongly and automatically latch on to signs of physical attractiveness in others in order to both find a mate and guard him or her from potential competitors.

"These kinds of attentional biases can occur completely outside of our conscious awareness," he said.

I must also note that this research was done at Florida State University, my alma mater. Go 'Noles.

1 comment:

Sarabeth said...

That second study is totally bogus. When I got married, I got married. I did not go blind and certainly did not start turning my attention towards attractive men.

Pure Bollocks. Sounds like somebody's thesis out of the Psychobiology program.

Your husband.