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Men or women: which sex is most sensitive to smell?

We make sense of the world through our five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. But do men and women rely more heavily on one sense than another, and by extension, make sense of the world differently?

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This post was originally posted in November 2012 and has been updated.

We make sense of the world through our five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. But do men and women rely more heavily on one sense than another, and by extension, make sense of the world differently?

Evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, author of the new book The Science of Love and Betrayal (via The Guardian), presents a compelling case for the idea that women may use their sense of smell more than men. And more significantly in a post for The Guardian, he argues that women follow their noses when it comes to selecting “Mr. Right.”

According to Dunbar, an individual’s personal scent reveals important biological information to those around them.

“The reason for this is that your smell is determined by the same set of genes, the major histocompatibility complex genes (MHC), as your immune system. It is part of who you are, your personal chemical signature,” writes Dunbar.

Women seem particularly attuned to “reading” that personal signature it seems. For example, Dunbar says there’s evidence to suggest that women possess the ability to recognize not only their children, but also their lovers by scent (she never says it’s a good scent, only that the ladies can tell the difference).

Scent also plays a stronger role in sexual arousal for women that men, says Dunbar, who cites a survey that found women rated odor as more important than visual cues when it came to making a choice about a potential mate and/or sexual arousal.

By contrast, men appear to draw more heavily on visual cues when it comes to romantic pursuit—they follow their eyes rather than their nose. That’s not to say men don’t respond to scent cues, however. Dunbar points out that there are studies that suggest men respond favourably to women who are ovulating, and there’s some evidence to suggest their awareness of this cyclical state is through scent.

To read more of Dunbar’s thoughts, see the article here.