Attraction is a funny thing: Sometimes a person’s personality alone can make your heart dance—and other times it’s the fact that they look, well, museum-worthy perfect. Surprisingly though, a pretty face doesn’t matter so much to your hormones, according to science. Rather, how a person smells might be what gets your chemical mojo really going.
A recent study published in Psychological Science analyzed how hormonal changes in heterosexual women affected their attraction to men’s faces that were either deemed “masculine” or “feminine.” On three occasions over the course of two and a half years, the 584 female participants (some on the birth control pill, some not) rated men’s faces—which were altered to look more feminine or masculine—on level of attractiveness. Participants also produced saliva samples on each occasion so researchers could track their hormone levels.
Researchers ultimately found that hormones didn’t factor into attraction levels. “We found that women generally preferred masculine men regardless of their own hormonal status,” lead study author Ben Jones, PhD, told Gizmodo.
“Attraction based on scent cues is very different than attraction based on visual cues.” —Alisa Vitti, women’s hormone expert
Though heterosexual women seem to agree on a universal definition of “handsome” that’s completely independent from and unaffected by their hormone levels—at least according to this study’s findings—science has previously shown that hormones do play into attraction levels, specifically regarding how a potential flame smells.
In a 2008 study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers had 97 female participants ages 18 to 35 smell T-shirts that the male participants had worn for two nights and then rate the scents for desirability. Results showed that women on hormonal birth control preferred the scent of a man who had similar histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes to them (which, TBH is a bit freaky, because couples with similar MHC genes are more likely to be related to each other than couples with different MHC genes). According to Scientific American, those results differ from many studies that show women naturally prefer the scent of men who have different MHC genes than they do—which might be a learned evolutionary filter for finding a viable mate with whom to successfully reproduce, since children with more “varied MHC profiles” have “more robust immune systems.”
It might seem weird that birth control doesn’t affect who you’re attracted to physically while simultaneously changing who you’re attracted to based on scent, but according to women’s hormone expert Alisa Vitti, Well+Good Council member and founder of FloLiving.com and MyFlo App, it’s possible. “Attraction based on scent cues is very different than attraction based on visual cues,” she says. So maybe when it comes to finding your perfect mate, smell and appearance are both important, huh?
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