What’s the most important factor in choosing a lover – is it eyes, smile, wealth, ambition,
personality, or outward appearance? Not surprisingly, friendliness is the most important factor for both men and women, and
if you’re a woman at Brown University, the second most important thing to you is how your potential lover smells. Think
this is weird? Rachel Herz of Brown University’s Department of Psychology and Michael Inzlicht of New York University’s
Department of Applied Psychology conducted a study to quantify how important smell is to men and women when it comes to choosing
their lovers. The researchers discuss these ideas in their article “Sex differences in response to physical and social
factors involved in human mate selection: The importance of smell for women,” which was published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior (2002).
and Inzlicht’s research debunks previous theories of mate selection. For example, according to Buss’s 1989 study,
men have stereotypically been charged with seeking women with “good looks,” whereas women look for men of “high
social status and wealth.” Herz and Inzlicht expand on such previous experiments by investigating the relationship between
attraction and the sense of smell. This factor is relevant because a pleasing natural smell may indicate that the potential
lover has a healthy immune system. Herz and Inzlicht created a survey with questions that fall under three topics: physical
and social factors involved in selecting a lover, better than average physical qualities, and natural versus artificial fragrance
quality. The 198 participants who filled out the survey were heterosexual students from Brown University with an average age
of 19.66 years. Half were male and half were female.
method used for investigating the influence of smell was a survey which asked the participants three sets of questions. The
first series questioned how various physical and social characteristics are evaluated when men and women select a lover. The
second set asked the students to choose which trait is most important of looks, scent, skin, and voice. The final category
asked how much the student’s like or dislike of a potential lover’s natural scent or artificial fragrance influences
the student’s sexual interest. Both men and women responded that niceness is the most important factor in choosing a
lover, but in second place for men comes good looks, and for women, scent takes the silver. Of the four items in the second
category, women ranked smell as most important, and men ranked it second. The reverse occurred with good looks. Additionally,
women responded that the most attractive potential lovers have pleasing natural scents. So to get a woman, she has to like
the way you smell, and your chances are even better if your smell is natural and not cologne-induced.
this study has some limitations and possibilities for expansion. Primarily, the participants were all from one environment.
In future experiments, researchers should survey students at colleges other than Brown. Other issues to consider are the influence
of age and sexual experience on the appreciation for body odor in mate attraction and what aspects of male body odor most
affect women. Additionally, a limitation the researchers emphasize is that since the term “lover” as used in the
study connotes the short-term, their results should not be over-interpreted.
results of Herz and Inzlicht’s study are applicable to Blue Devils as well as Bears. So why do you like that average
looking fellow? How come that ordinary lady in your writing class looks good to you? You can’t figure out for the life
of you why you keep thinking about him. Could it be because you caught a whiff of his natural scent? The take-home message
of this study is that women should look their best and be pleasant, and that men should smell nice and treat their women well.
Buss, D. M. (1989). Sex differences
in human mate preferences: evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures. [Electronic version]. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 12, 1-49.
S. and Inzlicht, Michael. (2002). Sex differences in response to physical and social factors involved in human mate selection:
The importance of smell for women. [Electronic version]. Evolution and Human Behavior, 23, 359-364.