Study: Male substance affects women's mood

August 17, 1998
Web posted at: 11:23 a.m. EDT (1523 GMT)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Women who breathed in a substance related to testosterone stayed in a better mood than when they weren't exposed, though they couldn't smell the stuff, researchers report.

The study suggests such hidden chemical signals may affect people's minds more than scientists have assumed, said psychologist Martha McClintock of the University of Chicago.

But she stressed that the substance didn't have the effects that some fragrance manufacturers claim for it. Scientists have long known that smells affect how people feel. The new work is the best evidence yet that undetected olfactory signals can do it too, McClintock said.

She described studies led by her student Suma Jacob in a lecture Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

The research focused on androstadienone which a man's body produces by breaking down testosterone. It's not clear yet whether men naturally give this substance off into the air, where it could affect women, McClintock said in an interview.

Two studies with a total of 41 women produced essentially identical results. On two occasions, Jacob wiped a liquid on each woman's upper lip. Each participant then filled out questionnaires to track her mood over the next few hours. On one occasion, the liquid contained the testosterone-related substance, and the other time it didn't. Women didn't know which time they were exposed.

The experiment showed no effect of the substance on self-esteem or feelings of friendliness or self-confidence, contrary to the claims of some fragrance makers, McClintock said.

But researchers did find a more general effect. When women weren't exposed to androstadienone, their mood tended to decline over the next two hours as the excitement of participating in the experiment wore off and they got irritated filling out questionnaires. But when they were exposed, this decline in mood was largely blocked, McClintock said.

It's not clear how the substance accomplished that, she said.

Another experiment found that a substance from women, a breakdown product of estrogen, had similar effects, she said after her lecture.

J. Bruce Overmier of the University of Minnesota called the results with the male substance intriguing, and said they made sense in a social animal like people. He also said the work needs followup study.



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