We prefer our own smell

August 25, 2000

When it comes to body chemistry, how does our choice of perfume influence the signals we send out?

Manfred Milinski, at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, and Claus Wedekind, at the University of Bern, Switzerland, have been examining the link between our genetic make-up, which determines our own unique smell, and our choice of perfume.

Their research has focused on the MHC gene complex - part of our genome that plays an important role in controlling our immune system, as well as influencing our natural body odour. Previous work has suggested that "chemistry" is supposed to spark when we find a partner with an MHC complex that complements our own.

This is because offspring that inherit a different gene form coding for their MHC complex from each parent may be more resistant to disease than offspring that inherited two of the same type.

However, when the researchers asked people to rank their preference of between 18 and 36 different perfumes, both for themselves and their partner, they consistently chose scents for their own use that correlated with their own genetic make-up.

On the other hand, their genes did not have any influence on the scents they chose for their partner. The results suggest we really do choose perfume for ourselves.

Perfume ingredients are not single scents - the smell of a rose, for example, consists of more than 400 different components of smell.

The researchers are now testing the findings by trying to identify which components are the key scents and whether the extra components may be masking information about odours we prefer for our partners.

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