Sunday, October 13, 2013

When in Doubt, Follow Your Nose

"The subject tonight is love,
And for tomorrow night as well.
As a matter of fact,
I know of no better topic,
For us to discuss,
Until we all die!"

Saba7o LOVEanese, joyous Dussehra, and Eid Mubarak! This is my first post of October, but I am happy to have taken a bit of time off from blogging. My log of potential blog posts, however, continues to increase. Something I am INCREDIBLY happy about is that, after about 2 years and 3 months, LOVEanon finally hit more than 50,000 views!

 Screen shot from October 6, 2013

Thank you to everyone who made it happen. This includes everyone who reads my blog, shares it, Likes it on Facebook, retweets it, etc. 3anjad, shukran kteer!

Before I get into the core of the post, as usual, I want to highlight some cool articles, quotes, and other resources. One is already listed above, and is short prose about love by the Persian poet, Hafiz. But here are the others:

1. The first is a Biblical quote from the 1st Book of Corinthians (13, 1–13). I've always loved this passage, and just wanted to share:

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I reasoned as a child. But when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face–to–face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So, now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."

2. The second is a short poem titled "Quiet Girl" by Black American poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967): 

"I would liken you

To a night without stars
Were it not for your eyes.

I would liken you

To a sleep without dreams
Were it not for your songs."

3. The third is a fantastic article about compatibility, and simply says that love is not enough to make a marriage or long-term relationship of any kind (married, or long-term partners) lasting and successful. There are multiple factors at play, including life goals, family, relationship dynamics, and a host of others. The article I linked to at the beginning of this paragraph explores this concept in greater detail, and I suggest you read it, especially since there are even more considerations to bear in mind as well. The fact is, most Westerners are obsessed with the idea of love, whereas people from Asia are obsessed with (social) compatibility. I believe there is a healthy in-between though!

4. The fourth is a blog post that was circulating around about what it means to really love (in this case, it was that he didn't love his wife before they were married). It's not contrasting love marriage vs. arranged marriage, but simply argues that his interpretation of what love is before he was married was completely different and in some ways, shallow, compared to the love he discovered after getting married. This was one of the most powerful parts:

"From Disney movies to my favorite shows like “The Office” to practically every pop song released, love is constantly sold as an emotion we have before we’re married. An emotion that, once had, somehow magically stays within a marriage forever. I can’t imagine a bigger lie. And I’m saddened to think about how much those messages bounced around in my head for so long. And how much I’m sure those messages are bouncing around in other people’s heads as well. I think that might be a big part of the reason the divorce rate is so high in this country. Imagine a whole nation of people constantly chasing the emotions they had when they were dating. A country of people trying to live a Disney movie. That’s a recipe for disastrous marriages; for a country with a 50% divorce rate;  for adultery (the classic attempt to turn the fire back on); for people who do stay together to simply live functional, loveless marriages. It’s sad to see just how common all the above is. How many people are in pain simply because they’ve been lied to. Those people deserve better. We all deserve better. It’s time that we changed the conversation about love. It’s time that we redefine it. Because until we do, adultery will continue to be common. Loveless marriages. Divorce. Living Disney movies in our minds, and tragedies in our lives."

It's relevant too because in many ways, love is true understanding. And in today's world, the concept of love (and especially romantic love) is often misunderstood in itself. Just remember: love doesn't discriminate, per se, but compatibility does. 

5. The fifth is an article about the dating habits of (American) millennials, specifically covering the 40 Days of Dating "experiment" that two friends(?) in New York documented. It provides some interesting insights, though its general applicability is most-likely questionable.

6. The sixth is more coverage of India's "Dark is Beautiful" campaign that I covered in this post, which celebrates the range of beauty in the form of skin tones and features. 

7. The seventh is an article from the Good Men Project debunking six marriage myths. Really interesting read! It includes the myths of pursuing your own individual needs is incompatible with making a marriage work, and the goal of marriage is for both partners to get exactly what they want (these are two big myths!).

8. The eighth is a good, light-hearted article entitled, "Get Married or Die Fasting" that is circulating around about marriage and courtship, and the frustrations of marriage and dating within Arab and Islamic societies.

9. The ninth is a collection of dating tips with some interesting and overall good advice. Although it's directed at "feminist men," I think that it is really applicable to most men AND women.

10. Lastly, there is some really big news that just recently broke, which is that kissing is, indeed, very important! "Psychology graduate student, Rafael Wlodarski, from the University of Oxford, wanted to find out. Results from his experiments supported two of the existing hypotheses about why we kiss. First, we kiss to assess potential mates. Second, we kiss the mate we've found to maintain attachment."

Note to self: Do this more.

Now, with all of that out of the way, let's get to the meat of this post (soy if you're vegetarian). The title comes from an exchange between Gandalf and the hobbits of the Fellowship in the (awesome) movie, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, while they were in the Mines of Moria. Gandalf is leading the party through the abandoned mines, when he suddenly realizes he cannot remember which path to take. After sitting down, and conversing with Frodo for a bit, he finally figures out which way to take. Upon one of the hobbits (Merry) announcing that he's remembered his way, Gandalf jokingly replies, "No. But the air doesn’t smell so foul down here. If in doubt, Meriadoc, always follow your nose."

And with a beard like that, how could you NOT believe him?

As with navigating abandoned mines in a fantasy world, your nose is also useful in navigating the often just-as-confusing real world of dating. How so? It's due to evolutionary biology (Thornhill and Gangestad, 1999; Tregenza and Wedell, 2000; Bhutta, 2007; Roberts and Roiser, 2010). Bloggers and writers have discussed this widely (e.g., see: this article, this article, and this article that reviewed and critiqued the Discovery Channel's series, The Science of Sex Appeal's coverage of the topic).

Bhutta's (2007) review explains how smell is related to dating, specifically, how it's related to mate selection and attraction. In his conclusion, he writes, "Olfaction as a sensory modality in humans has declined in importance subsequent to the evolution of trichromatic vision, and perhaps even more with the use in contemporary society of perfumes and deodorants to disguise our body odors. However, emerging evidence shows that it may play a far more important role than we suppose, and that in common with other animals it may be involved in endocrine regulation, behavioral responses and in determining when, how and with whom we choose to reproduce. The research in this field remains sparse, and the potential implications of these findings on people clinically afflicted with nasal blockage or anosmia have not been investigated, but could be significant."

What exactly does that mean? Well, try this: he presents findings from studies that suggest that someone else's bodily scent is often an evolutionary clue that predicts your genetic similarity and compatibility (otherwise labeled as "genetically complimentary"). The higher the similarity, the lower the compatibility because genetic similarity will create less genetically diverse babies with lower genetic fitness. Imagine it like this: when a baby is being formed, DNA from the male sperm and female egg are combining to create a new life. Genetically speaking, the more the two individuals have in common, the fewer genetic "resources" are available that can be assembled to create a healthier baby. That's not to imply that more genetic similarity will always produce unhealthy babies; it's merely asserting that human evolution has programmed us mentally and biologically to seek out partners who can help us create offspring under the best conditions possible (one reason why incest is so damaging for offspring).

One blogger explains why this is so: "From an evolutionary perspective, choosing a mate with a different immune system makes survival sense. Kids of parents with different immune genes are more likely to be disease-resistant and are therefore more likely to survive. The women in [these studies] also reported liking the scents that reminded them of their current or previous boyfriends, showing that MHC attraction is consistent. And because MHC profiles differ greatly from one person to the next, there is no universally "good" smell. One woman’s Romeo was another woman's raunchy."

And you can proudly tell those parents to kindly kiss off when their kid gives your kid chicken pox.

Moreover, an article from Science of Relationships states: "We choose potential mates based on how suitable they would be as genetic contributors to our offspring. Therefore, we look for (or smell for) signs that a person has good genes, good health, and fertility."

I think you are getting the point. This information comes out of a long history exploring the connection between smell and mate selection. One famous study was the "sweaty T-shirt study" by Swiss zoologist, Claus Wedekind (1995). Wedekind et al. was working with the hypothesis that human odor correlates to personal genetic makeup. They brought together 49 women and 44 men, and he gave each man a cotton T-shirt to wear for 3 days. They asked the men to avoid wearing any perfumes or deodorants. Those shirts were returned to Wedekind, who put each one in a box with a "smelling hole." The women volunteers each sniffed seven shirts, and to indicate which smelled the best to them. They were also asked to rate the odors in each box according to pleasantness and "sexiness." The researchers found that women didn’t just choose their favorite scent randomly. They preferred the scent of man whose major histocompatibility complex (MHC)--a series of genes involved in our immune system--was most different from their own (information borrowed from here and here).

Other good links and resources to learn more about this include this article that further explains the science behind it (hint: it involves the creation and secretion of pheromones), and another article from Science of Relationships that reviews a study, and sheds light on why body scent is connected to mate selection. For instance, of the chemicals that are supposed to be involved in communicating genetics via body scent are pheromones. They are produced by both men and women, however, men apparently give off many more than women, and is closely related to the hormone androsterone. According to the first article mentioned in this paragraph, "the term pheromone was coined by two hormone researchers, Karlson and Luscher, who created the word from two Greek origins: pherein, meaning to bring or transfer; and hormon, meaning to excite. Pheromones are primarily perceived through olfactory sensors, and studies suggest they are excreted by several areas of the body, including the skin, sweat glands, saliva, and urine."

This photo explains how pheromones influence our brains

The article continues, explaining: "Men primarily release androsterone through their skin and hair. And while both men and women excrete trace amounts of it through their urine, men excrete up to four times as much as women do. This particular pheromone, which is produced by the adrenal glands of both sexes, is also present in sweat under the armpits of both sexes. In addition, it is present in smegma, the substance secreted by the sebaceous glands of the penis and vagina. Researchers have found that women secrete at least one other attracting pheromone from their vagina. Studies of the vaginal secretions of sexually alluring women have demonstrated the presence of copulin, a pheromone which is mainly present in these fluids. The appearance of these chemicals appears to correlate with hormonal variations corresponding with changes in the female menstrual cycle."

Since Wedekind's study, much more light has been cast on this phenomenon. However, something that is beginning to happen is that people are throwing "Pheromone Parties." As this article explains, it's exactly what you think it is. It involves someone hosting a party where they basically reproduce Wedekind's study, but with the hopes of finding a date. Colbert does a particularly funny segment on these parties.

"Mmmmm, let's make babies!"

There is much more to discuss related to this than I included in the post. But mainly it's because the articles I have linked to really do a great job at presenting the information (although they do not often cite their sources, but generally just say "studies show." Be careful when you see this because we tend to trust this language, but it may be misleading).

What do you think about it? We can probably easy recall a time when we were turned off to someone because they smelled bad, but do you remember a time when you were attracted to someone because they smelled good? Let me know!

Spread the love,

-Ogie, MA


Bhutta, Mahmood F. 2007. "Sex and the Nose: Human Pheromonal Responses." Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 100(6): 268-274.

Thornhill, R., and S. W. Gangestad. 1999. "The Scent of Symmetry: A Human Sex Pheromone that Signals Fitness?" Evolution and Human Behavior, 20: 175-201. 

Tregenza, T., and N. Wedell. 2000. "Genetic Compatibility, Mate Choice, and Patterns of Parentage: Invited Review." Molecular Ecology, 9(8): 1013–1027.

Roberts, T., and Roiser, J. P. 2010. "In the Nose of the Beholder: Are Olfactory Influences on Human Mate Choice Driven by Variation in Immune System Genes or Sex Hormone levels?" Experimental Biology and Medicine, 235(11): 1277-81. 

Wedekind, Claus, Thomas Seebeck, Florence Bettens, and Alexander J. Paepke. 1995. "MHC-Dependent Mate Preferences in Humans." Proceeding of the Royal Society of London Series B, 260: 245-249.


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