All cultures are known to place great importance on artificial body odour, suggesting a deep-seated psychological awareness that human bodies should smell and perfumes have been used since the earliest times of recorded history (Stoddart 1986). Fragrances have been used for at least 5000 years and all traditional scents are found in modern perfumes. The purpose of using perfumes seems to be to enhance a person’s sexual attractiveness, which is apparent from the advertising campaigns that usually accompany the marketing strategies of the perfume industry and which is testified also by the bible (see above). Perfumery is not only regarded as an art, it is also one of the earliest crafts and the basic techniques of today’s perfumers are essentially the same as those of their Egyptian predecessors 4000 years ago (Dodd 1991). Many of today’s perfume ingredients such as cassia, cinnamon, sandalwood, styrax, benzoin, jasmine, rose, etc. were already used for incense by ancient Chinese, Indian or Egyptian cultures 5000 years ago (Stoddart 1991). Detailed incense and perfume recipes, e.g., myrrh, labdanum, galbanum, olibanum in specified quantities can be found in the bible (Exodus 30:34–36) and are still used in some modern perfumes. Also, many of today’s best-selling brands are rather old, e.g., ‘Mitsouko’ (Guerlain) from 1919, ‘Chanel No. 5’ from 1921, ‘L’Air du Temps’ (Ricci) from 1948, and many of the new perfumes are similar to established ones (H. & R. Fragrance Guide 1995), suggesting that fashion is not very important for human perfume preferences. Because of the long history of humans to select and use artificial scents, perfumes may have become part of our biology. It is, however, not obvious which part they play.


Major Histocompatibility Complex Mate Choice Major Histocompatibility Complex Allele Body Odour Major Histocompatibility Complex Genotype 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Apanius V, Penn D, Slev PR, Ruff LR, Potts WK (1997) The nature of selection on the major histocompatibility complex. Crit Rev Immunol 17: 179–224PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Archunan G, Dominic CJ (1990) Stud male-induced protection of implantation in food-deprived mice: masking effect of an artificial scent on pheromonal odour. Ind J Exp Biol 28: 371–372Google Scholar
  3. Beets MGJ, Theimer ET (1970) Odour similarity between structurally unrelated odorants. In: Wolstenholme GEW, Knight J (eds) Taste and smell in vertebrates. Churchill, London, pp 313–321Google Scholar
  4. Bruce MH (1960) A block to pregnancy in the mouse caused by proximity of strange males. J Reprod Fertility 1: 96–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Calkin RR, Jellinek JS (1994) Perfumery, practice and principles. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  6. Crow JF, Kimura M (1965) Evolution in sexual and asexual populations. Am Nat 99: 439–450CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Daly CD, White RS (1930) Psychic reactions to olfactory stimuli. Br J Med Psychol 10: 70–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dodd GH (1991) The molecular dimension in perfumery. In: Van Toller S, Dodd GH (eds) Perfumery: the psychology and biology of fragrance. Chapman and Hall, London, pp 19–46Google Scholar
  9. Doty R (1981) Olfactory communication in humans. Chem Senses 6: 351–376CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Doty RL, Ford M, Preti G, Huggins G (1975) Human vaginal odors change in pleasantness and intensity during the menstrual cycle. Science 190: 45–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Egid K, Brown JL (1989) The major histocompatibility complex and female mating preferences in mice. Anim Behav 38: 548–550CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gangestad SW, Thornhill R (1998) Menstrual cycle variation in woman’s preferences for the scent of symmetrical men. Proc R Soc Lond Ser B 265: 927–933CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hamilton WD (1980) Sex versus non-sex parasite. Oikos 35: 282–290CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hamilton WD, Axelrod R, Tanese R (1990) Sexual reproduction as an adaptation to resist parasites (a review). Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 87: 3566–3573PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. H and R Fragrance Guide (1995) 3rd edn. Glöss and Co, HamburgGoogle Scholar
  16. Hudson R, Koch B, Heid B, Laska M (1996) Veränderungen der Geruchswahrnehmung während der Schwangerschaft: eine Längsschnittstudie. In: Brähler E, Unger U (eds) Schwangerschaft, Geburt und der Übergang zur Elternschaft. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen, pp 174–191Google Scholar
  17. Jacob S, McClintock MK, Zelano B, Ober C (2002) Paternally inherited HLA alleles are associated with women’s choice of male odor. Nat Genet 30: 175–179PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jellinek P (1951) Die psychologischen Grundlagen der Parfümerie. Hüthig Verlag, HeidelbergGoogle Scholar
  19. Kondrashov FA, Kondrashov AS (2001) Multidimensional epistasis and the disadvantage of sex. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 98: 12089–12092PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Le Norcy S (1991) Selling perfume: a technique or an art? In: Van Toller S, Dodd GH (eds) Perfumery: the psychology and biology of fragrance. Chapman and Hall, London, pp 217–226Google Scholar
  21. Manning CJ, Wakeland EK, Potts WK (1992) Communal nesting patterns in mice implicate MHC genes in kin recognition. Nature 360: 581–583PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Maynard Smith J (1976) The evolution of sex. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  23. Milinski M, Wedekind C (2001) Evidence for MHC-correlated perfume preferences in humans. Behav Ecol 12: 140–149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Muller HJ (1964) The relation of recombination to mutational advance. Mutat Res 1: 2–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Nowak MA, Tarczy-Hornoch K, Austyn JM (1992) The optimal number of major histocompatibility complex molecules in an individual. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 89: 10896–10899PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ober C, Weitkamp LR, Cox N, Dytch H, Kostyu D, Elias S (1997) HLA and mate choice in humans. Am J Human Genet 61: 497–504CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ohloff G (1978) The importance of minor components in flavors and fragrances. Perfum Flavor 3: 11–22Google Scholar
  28. Potts WK, Manning CJ, Wakeland EK (1991) Mating patterns in seminatural populations of mice influenced by MHC genotype. Nature 352: 619–621PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Prasad BC, Reed RR (1999) Chemosensation: molecular mechanisms in worms and mammals. Trends Genet 15: 150–153PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pratt J (1942) Notes on the unconscious significance of perfume. Int J Psychoanal 23: 80–83Google Scholar
  31. Reusch TB, Häberli MA, Aeschlimann PB, Milinski M (2001) Female sticklebacks count alleles in a strategy of sexual selection explaining MHC polymorphism. Nature 414: 300–302PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Rikowski A, Grammer K (1999) Human body odour, symmetry and attractiveness. Proc R Soc Lond Ser B 266: 869–874CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ryan MJ, Fox JH, Wilczynski W, Rand AS (1990) Sexual selection for sensory exploitation in the frog Physalaemus pustolosus. Nature 343: 66–67PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sam M, Vora S, Malnic B, Ma W, Novotny MV, Buck LB (2001) Odorants may arouse instinctive behaviours. Nature 412: 142PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Stern K, McClintock MK (1998) Regulation of ovulation by human pheromones. Nature 392: 177–179PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Stoddart DM (1986) The role of olfaction in the evolution of human sexuality: an hypothesis. Man 21: 514–520CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Stoddart DM (1990) The scented ape: the biology and culture of human odour. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  38. Stoddart DM (1991) Human culture: a zoological perspective. In: Van Toller S, Dodd GH (eds) Perfumery: the psychology and biology of fragrance. Chapman and Hall, London, pp 3–17Google Scholar
  39. Van Toller S, Dodd GH (eds) (1991) Perfumery: the psychology and biology of fragrance. Chapman and Hall, LondonGoogle Scholar
  40. Vollrath F, Milinski M (1995) Fragrant genes help Damenwahl. Trends Ecol Evol 10: 307–308CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wedekind C, Füri S (1997) Body odour preferences in men and women: do they aim for specific MHC combinations or simply heterozygosity? Proc R Soc Lond Ser B 264: 1471–1479CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wedekind C, Seebeck T, Bettens F, Paepke AJ (1995) MHC-dependent mate preferences in humans. Proc R Soc Lond Ser B 260: 245–249CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Yamazaki K, Boyes EA, Thaler HT, Mathieson BJ, Abbott J, Boyes J, Zayas ZA (1976) Control of mating preferences in mice by genes in the major histocompatibility complex. J Exp Med 144: 1324–1335PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Yamazaki K, Yamaguchi M, Andrews PW, Peake B, Boyes EA (1978) Mating preferences of F2 segregants of crosses between MHC-congenic mouse strains. Immunogenetics 6: 253–259CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2003

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations