Motivation and emotion/Book/2017/Pheromones and motivation
How do pheromones affect motivation?
The focus of this chapter is the development and understanding of pheromones and motivation. More specifically, how pheromones affect motivation.
Motivational theories and research are discussed in relation to pheromones. The focus is on the effects that pheromones have on human, however animal pheromones are also discussed.
On the completion of this chapter, you should be able to:
- Explain the basic principles of motivation and pheromones in humans and animals
- Understand the differences between human and animal pheromones
- Explain the importance of human body odour and chemosignals
- Explain the effects that pheromones have on humans
- Demonstrate an understanding of the interaction between pheromones and motivation
- Complete the short quiz at the end of this chapter
Motivation is the reason or forces within an individual that propel them to satisfy certain basic desires and needs (Yorks, 1976, as cited by Pardee, 1990). Motivation is the driving force/s behind the direction, initiation and persistence of behaviour. This includes biological drives such as hunger, thirst, self preservation and sex (Colman, 2015). Motivation also includes social influences such as need for affiliation and achievement (Colman, 2015).
Three qualities are considered in most definitions of motivation (Russell, 1971; as cited by Pardee, 1990);
- Motivation is a presumed internal push/force
- Which energises for action, and
- Determines the direction of the action
There are two core questions when it comes to the study and understanding of motivation: (Reeve, 2015);
- Why do organisms behave the way they do? and,
- Why does the intensity of behaviour fluctuate in intensity?
Motivational research and science seeks to construct theories to understand and explore how motivational processes work.
In order to understand the relationship between motivation and pheromones one must first understand that there are numerous kinds of motivation. The kind of motivation that pheromones affect in humans is sexual motivation or sexual desire.
This is not to say that pheromones may not have an affect on any other motivational processes, but that the evidence found through experimentation and studies has found links between human pheromones and sexual motivations, including sexual intercourse, reproduction, mate selection, and kin recognition. This is also not to say that animals are not sexually motivated by pheromones, to the contrary, pheromones have a various affect on animals including sexual motivation.
Sexual desire is a motivational state in which a wish, need or desire to seek out or engage in sexual activities (Regan & Atkins, 2006). There is no universal definition of sexual motivation, or sexual desire, and it is often considered intertwined with other aspects of human sexuality (DeLamater & Sill, 2005).
There are two main frameworks in the theories of sexual desire (DeLamater & Sill, 2005); The first assumes sexual desire is an innate motivational force (drive, need, instinct, urge, wish or want), and the second emphasises rational aspects of sexual motivation.
There are a number of motivational theories and perspectives when it comes to the understanding and study of motivation.
There are numerous motivational theories and perspectives which all aim to question and understand motivation in specific ways. As there are such a diversity in theories a select few will be discussed in relation to pheromones and sexual motivation.
Behaviorism (behaviourism) is the understanding of behaviour in humans and animals. This theory states that all behaviours are responses provoked by certain stimuli, past experiences and an individual's current motivational state. This approach is only concerned with observable stimulus response behaviours (McLeod, 2007).
This is an interesting theory as the discussion of what affect pheromones have on motivation can be easily implemented as a stimulus response behaviour can be observed in the study of the affects of pheromones. Although these finding may not be directly on the affects of pheromones on motivation it it useful to provide evidence of pheromones and pheromone effects in humans. Pheromones may in fact be the stimuli that evokes a response and motivation and alter current motivational states .
Behaviourism is a theory with a number of aspects and major influencers (see John B. Watson and B. F. Skinner) which provide compelling and interesting understanding and suggestions on behavioural motivators.
Self Determination Theory
Self-determination theory is a theory of motivation that considers peoples inherent tendencies and innate psychological needs as motivators (Deci & Ryan, 2012). Self determination theory focuses on the degree to which behaviour is self determined and motivated. These inherent tendencies and innate psychological needs may include things such as reproduction, species survival and mate selection and these may in fact be the motivators behind these behaviours. However the same could be said for the production of pheromones.
In animals the understanding of when and how to produce certain pheromones for certain responses may in fact be an innate and instinctual ability. The same can be said for humans with the exception of having an understanding of the how and why. Ph} This theory may also provide further understanding as to why humans engage in reproductive and mate selection activities for pleasure rather than to carry on genetic information to future generations.
Evolutionary theory is based on the assumption that sexual motivation and behaviour is based in genetics (Reeves, 2015). Sexual motivation and behaviour have an evolutionary function in both humans and animals, through reproduction and survival of the species (Reeve, 2015). Evolutionary psychologists and theorists state that sexual behaviour is confined and determined by genetics (Reeve, 2015). This genetic influence on mate selection and reproduction can be linked to findings that pheromones in humans influence mate selection and are able to identify those genetically similar to you (siblings and family relations) as to determine successful partnership and offspring.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in which human motivations is arranged into five clusters. The arrangement of these clusters is in a hierarchy thus that lower level needs must be satisfied in order to reach the higher levels (Pardee, 1990). Included in the basic and lower level of needs is food, water shelter and sex. Thus much like other motivations, sexual motivation is a state in which a wish, need or desire to seek out or engage in sexual activities (Regan & Atkins, 2006).
pheromones are chemical signals which have evolved in order to provide communication between those of the same species (Wyatt, 2015). They have a large chemical variability and thus are grouped according to function rather than their chemical structures (Tirindelli, Dibattista, Pifferi & Menini, 2009).
A pheromone signal provokes or produces a specific reaction from the receiver,these reactions can be categorised into a releaser effect (stereotypical behaviour) or primer effect (developmental process), however while most pheromones have a specific effect, certain pheromones can have both a releaser and a primer effect (Wyatt, 2015).
More specifically, releaser pheromones evoke behavioural responses in mating, marking territory and aggressive attacks, whereas primer pheromones induce delayed responses through activation of the neuroendocrine system effecting hormonal balances of the receiver (Tirindelli, Dibattista, Pifferi & Menini, 2009).
The definition of a pheromone as a substance emitted that attracts an individual of the opposite sex is true for some pheromones, but not all (Ben-Ari, 1998). Pheromones are typically detected by sense of smell, however not all smells are pheromones (Wyatt, 2015). Pheromones are classified as molecules that are released by individuals that provoked or cause specific behaviours in members of the same species,these molecules are contained in bodily fluids (i.e. sweat, urine, secretions of genitals) (Tirindelli, Dibattista, Pifferi & Menini, 2009).
Pheromones have a large chemical variability and are thus grouped according to functional properties rather than chemical (Tirindelli et al. 2009). There are numerous classification types of pheromones in the animal kingdom, and interestingly in mammals some pheromones are shared between species, although have different purposes (Tirindelli, et al. 2009).
Table 1. Types of pheromones
Although biologists have known for many years that pheromones influence sexual behaviour in animals, the effect in humans has proved to have more complexity (Miller, 2006). It has previously been theorised that humans are immune to such an influence. This theorised immunity was based on the lack of a structure called the Vomeronasal organ (VNO) in humans, which has pheromone receptors that trigger hormonal responses in animals (Miller, 2006). However, researchers have questioned the emphasis placed on the VNO, and stated that human pheromones could be acting through pathways other than the VNO (Ben-Ari, 1998). Despite the dependence on visual cues that humans have, smells also play a role in sociosexual behaviours such as mate selection and sexual attraction (when in close proximity). Studies have indicated that humans use olfactory communication and even have the ability to produce and perceive pheromones, although perhaps unconciously , and that they have important roles in reproduction and behavioural functions (Grammer, Fink & Neave, 2005).
The Olfactory System
olfactory system is the part of the sensory system that is responsible for sense of smell. This system detects airborne substances and plays a crucial role in the reproductive physiology and reproductive behaviour of most mammals (Boehm, Zou & Buck, 2005). A sense of smell is a crucial aspect in the role of pheromones on the behaviour and response(s) of humans and animals.
Body odour (see; Body odor ) in humans is primarily the result of the Apocrine sweat glands which secrete a number of chemical compounds (Lundstrom & Olsson, 2010) This secretion happens in the armpit (axillary region), but can also be found in other areas of the human body such as the pubic region (Grammer, Fink, & Neave, 2005).
Odours are recognised as having an effect on behaviour and physiology in mammals, including humans (Horii, Nagai, & Nakashima, 2013). Studies have shown that humans have an individual and unique odour signature that carries a number of informational aspects (Lundstrom & Olsson, 2010). These include information of genetic makeup, environmental variables, diet and also hygiene (Lundstrom & Olsson, 2010).
Body odour is said to be the human pheromone, with the producers of this pheromone (apocrine glands) becoming functional at the onset of puberty, and sexual maturation (Grammer, Fink, & Neave, 2005). Body odour may be the strongest evidence that humans communicate information through odour (Hays, 2003).
Chemosensory signals (or chemosignals) are chemical signals produced by the human body via sweat that communicates human emotions (de Groot, Smeets, Kaldewaij, Duijndam, & Semin, 2012) and are classified as pheromones. While some deny the existence of human pheromones, others are studying and making advances in the understanding of chemosignals .
These are signals found in body odour which provide information and evidence that humans communicate through pheromones. Thus far research has defined four areas of chemosensory communication, mate selection, menstrual cycle synchronicity, kin recognition and emotional communication (Pause, 2011). These four areas all provide important evolutionary advantages to the reproduction and behaviour of humans (Pause, 2011): Kin recognition has been identified as the most important chemosensory communication as it is crucial for structuring social relations, including the ability of family members being able to chemosenorilyidentify one another (which is crucial for mate selection and thus the successful transmission of one's own genes to future generations).
- For further reading on this study and its findings see; Processing of Body Odor Signals by the Human Brain 
Table 2. Case study of menstrual synchronisation
An interesting study on the affects of pheromones on reproductive behaviours of human females (i.e., menstrual cycles) was conducted by McClintock (1971) and found that the menstrual cycles of participants who lived together synchronised. This research was extended in 1986 (Preti et al. 1986)  by odour from the axillary region of a donor female being rubbed onto the upper lip of the cohabiting females. This resulted in the menstrual cycles of participants synchronising with the cycle of the donor female. These findings confirmed that there was a pheromonal affect on the menstrual cycles of women who live together, and provides an interesting foundation for further study on the affects of pheromones on humans.
Research on human pheromones is mainly focused on three groups of steroids (Rajchard, 2010):
- Androstadienone (primarily found in males)
- Androstenol and Anderostenone (influence female interactions with males)
In humans, androstenone (from males), exerts a positive effect on mood, cognition and sympathetic nervous system arousal in women, whereas androstenol is the female pheromone that attracts men (Mostafa, El Khouly & Hassan, 2011).
Sexual motivation can be said to be the result of pheromones directing behaviour towards reproduction and mate selection. However. findings in this area of research suggests that sex differences in olfactory ability and sensation may apply to some odours but not all (Fox, 2006). Despite these suggestions there is evidence that smell sensitivity in females changes during menstruation, with sensitivity to male pheromones during menstrual and ovulation cycle cycle of females changing (Fox, 2006). Which essentially means that during ovulation and menstruation women feel differently towards men, due to their sex pheromones.
Androstenol and Anderostenone are the sex pheromones produced by men and those that women are most sensitive to in their ovulation and menstruation cycles. Androstenol is produced by a male when they are freshly sweating, and this fresh sweat is what is attractive to females, whereas Androsrenone is sweat that has been exposed to oxygen and this is unpleasant to women (Fox, 2006). Interestingly though, this is perceived as unpleasant except for when the woman in ovulating, and the response changes to neutral (Fox, 2006).
Research on sex pheromones (steroids) has provided an abundance of findings. However due to the nature of scent and arousal/attraction, there are some false misconceptions that people have due to advertisements and perfumes/colognes (Fox, 2006). Thus, while many people think that perfumes and colognes will help them find a sexual partner, it may in fact be more beneficial to go without the synthetic fragrance and let your hormones do the talking.
Pheromones are chemical messages which, for animals, are essential tasks for survival. These include establishing a hierarchy, estimating reproductive potential and genetic diversity of possible mates and signalling a threat (Trotier, 2011). Pheromones are categorised into a releaser effect and a primer effect (Wyatt, 2015):
- Releaser pheromones act on the behaviour of the receiver
- Primer pheromones have an enduring and deeper action on that of the receivers physiology (Trotier, 2011).
Examples of this include;
- A dominant males pheromones reducing the sexual aptitude of subordinate males by altering endocrine function (Trotier, 2011).
- A sexually mature male mouse triggering puberty in young females via pheromones (Troiter, 2011).
Pheromones in animals have been extensively studied with the affects of releaser, primer, signaler and modulator pheromones seen in numerous animals. However, the effects on pheromones on humans has been studied less and is the greater focus of this chapter.
Do Pheromones Affect Motivation?
Pheromones have a number of affects on numerous behaviours and motivators in both humans and animals. However, in humans pheromones may be an unconscious motivator, as humans depend on visual cues rather than smells. However studies show the occurrence of people being influenced by smell, even if unconsciously. Thus pheromones may in fact have an affect on motivation, in particular sexual motivation through body odour and chemosignals.
The affects of pheromones on motivation can be seen throughout the animal kingdom, through mating, reproduction and defence mechanisms, and in humans in menstrual synchronisation, mate selection and kin recognition. This has been identified through studies conducted on human pheromones (sometimes referred to as body odour and chemosignals or chemosignal communication).
It can further be seen in humans through steroids. In particular androstenone (from males), exerts a positive effect on mood, cognition and sympathetic nervous system arousal in women, whereas androstenol is the female pheromone that attracts men (Mostafa, El Khouly & Hassan, 2011).
Sexual motivation can be said to be the result of pheromones directing behaviour towards reproduction and mate selection. This can be seen from the perspective of a number of motivational theories. However, evidence in this area is more directed towards and found in animal behaviour and reproduction as humans also engage in these activities for pleasure rather than to carry on genetic information to future generations.
Motivation is the reason or forces within a person that propel them to satisfy certain basic desires and needs, the driving forces behind the direction, initiation and persistence of behaviour. This includes biological drives such as hunger, thirst, self preservation and sex, as well as need for affiliation and achievement. The motivational theories that were mentioned at the opening of this chapter all have various methods and understandings of motivation. However the affect of pheromones on motivation can all fit into these varying theories.
The affects that pheromones have on humans are not as crucial for survival and mate selection as they are in the animal kingdom, but evidence has shown that there are numerous biological changes which while they are not purely for motivation they may have side effects motivation. Although pheromones have unconscious affects on motivation they have an undeniable affect on a number of responses and sensitivity to smell that have a chain reaction to motivation.
Although pheromones have a direct affect on motivation in animals the evidence for affects on humans is more complex. Pheromones have an intentional affect for/on animals (as they know they are producing pheromones and for what reason), the affect on humans is an unconscious one as we are not aware of what is occurring and why. human do not intentionally produce a certain scent to attract a mate, however scent sensitivity changes in females who are ovulating results in men becoming more attractive and thus my affect motivation to connect as a mate.
Despite the unconscious and seemingly unintentional biological and hormonal changes and occurrences evidence has provided numerous examples of the changes caused by human pheromones. However, sifting through this research proves difficult when some suggest there are no such things as human pheromones, or due to the many terms used to describe them (e.g., hormones/steroids, chemosignals, body odour).
Despite the uncertainty of human pheromones, much of the population may indeed unknowingly agree to the existence of them. Through the advertisements of perfumes and colognes and the promise of them making you attracting or sexy to the opposite sex, and this may in fact be a motivator too. Thus, without really knowing the truth behind pheromones and mate selection etc. they are motivated to buy products that will help them find a partner.
Overall it can be seen that pheromones have numerous affects on motivation in both the animal kingdom and in humans, with an abundance of interesting and varying research to explore further.
Test your knowledge:
- Motivation (Wikipedia)
- pheromone (Wikipedia)
- Body Odor (Wikipedia)
- Body Odour and Sexual Attraction (Wikipedia)
- Vomeronasal organ (Wikipedia)
- sexual desire (Wikipedia)
- Maslow's hierarchy of needs (Wikipedia)
- olfactory system (Wikipedia)
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Colman, A. M. (2015). Motivation. Dictionary of Psychology (4th ed.). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 31 Aug. 2017, from http://www.oxfordreference.com.ezproxy.canberra.edu.au/
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McLeod, S. (2007). Behaviorist Approach. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/behaviorism.html
McClintock, M. K. (1971). Menstrual Synchrony and Suppression. Nature,229, 244-245.
Miller, M. (2006). Human Pheromones. Harvard Mental Health Letter, 23(5), 1p
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Preti, G., Cutler, W. B., Garcia, C. R., Huggins, G. R., & Lawley, H. J. (1986). Human Axillary Secretions Influence womens Menstural Cycles: The Role of Donor Extract of Females. Hormones and Behaviour,20, 474-482.
Rajchard, J. (2010). The Steroids Considered as Human Pheromones. Ethology Ecology & Evolution,22(3), 311-314. doi: 10.1080/03949370.2010.502327
Regan, P. C., & Atkins, L. (2006). Sex Differences and Similarities in Frequency and Intensity of Sexual Desire'. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 34(1), 95-101. doi:10.2224/sbp.2006.34.1.95
Reeve, J. (2015). Understanding Motivation and Emotion (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Tirindelli, R., Dibattista, M., Pifferi, S., Menini, A. (2009). From Pheromones to Behaviour. Physiological Reviews,89(3), 921-956. doi:10.1152/physrev.00037.2008
Trotier, D. (2011). Vomeronasal Organ and Human Pheromones. European Annals of Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Diseases,128(4),184-190. doi:10.1016/j.anorl.2010.11.008
Wyatt, T. D. (2015). How Animals Communicate Via Pheromones. American Scientist, 103(2), 114-121.
- Facts, fallacies, fears, and Frustrations With Human Pheromones 
- Human Pheromones: Integrating Neuroendocrinology and Ethology 
- Communication Through Body Odour 
- Further studies and explanation on menstrual synchronicity see: Grammer, Fink & Neave (2005)