Can women "sniff out" their competition in the mating game?
Maybe so. New research from Florida State University suggests that women react to the scent of their fertile female rivals by getting a boost in testosterone.
"Being able to identify fertile competitors could put women at an advantage in the mating game," lead researcher Dr. Jon Maner, a psychologist at the university, told The Huffington Post in an email. "It could help them identify and potentially derogate or antagonize their most immediate competitors on the mating market... It could help women who are in a committed, long-term relationship identify others who might be especially able to lure their partner into a tryst or affair."
For the study, four women between the ages of 18 and 21 wore t-shirts at night during a period of high fertility (days 13, 14, and 15 of their menstrual cycles), or low fertility (days 20, 21 and 22). They were asked to refrain from using odored products, smoking, drinking alcohol, engaging in sexual activity, and eating pungent foods like garlic or vinegar.
Then, 25 other women in the same age group sniffed the t-shirts the women had worn. Researchers tested the testosterone levels in saliva samples taken from the sniffers before and after they had sniffed the shirts.
What did the study show? The women who smelled t-shirts worn by fertile women showed a slight increase in testosterone levels. Testosterone levels fell sharply in the women who sniffed shirts worn by non-fertile women.
Previous studies have shown that testosterone levels in men and women rise when they anticipate competing. High testosterone levels have been linked with aggressive behavior. Maner thinks women are able to gauge the fertility of females around them -- and so know who their competition is and prepare themselves to compete.
Men, too, may be sensitive to women's fertility. In a previous study, Maner found that men's testosterone levels go up after they smell a fertile female, and they rate the scents of ovulating women as more pleasant.
"Some people might like to believe that people aren't animals, or at least that our behavior isn't beholden to the same biological processes as other species," Maner told Discovery News. "But humans are very similar to other species in many ways, and those similarities are no more apparent than when it comes to sexuality."
The study was published online on Sept. 16 in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.
(Hat tip, Discovery News)