Accessibility links

Breaking News

SCIENCE REPORT - February 21, 2002: Women and Sense of Smell - 2002-02-21

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

Two new American studies are adding to our understanding of women and their sense of smell.

The first study showed that women appear to like the smell of men whose genes are similar to the women’s fathers. Scientists at the University of Chicago in Illinois described their experiment in Nature Genetics magazine.

The scientists asked a group of forty-nine women to smell several boxes. Each box had a different smell. The women were asked which box they would choose if they had to smell it all the time. They were not told what each box contained.

The ten boxes contained pieces of clothing called T-shirts. Some of the T-shirts contained a common smell of a substance found around the house. Each of the other six T-shirts had been worn by a man for two days. The six men who wore the T-shirts were told to avoid activities that produced strong smells.

The scientists tested the genes of the men and women in the study. They examined a special group of genes called M-H-C genes.

The scientists found that the women did not choose smells of men with genes totally similar to their own. However, women generally liked the smell of men whose M-H-C genes were similar to the genes that were passed to the women from their fathers. There was no such relationship between a woman and genes from her mother.

A second study found that women can improve their ability to recognize smells by smelling them repeatedly. Scientists at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, organized this study. They reported the findings in Nature Neuroscience magazine.

The scientists found that men and women were equally good at identifying a number of smells at the start of testing. However, the women became better at recognizing smells the more they were tested. This was not true for men, boys, girls or older women. Scientists suggest that this ability may be linked to substances called hormones produced by women.

Scientists say their findings may explain why women are more likely than men to be troubled by smells in the environment.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by George Grow.