World Science Festival alum, Leslie Vosshall, is featured in today’s New York Times. She discusses the neuroscientific relationship between scent and arousal, and the perfume industry’s never-ending quest to bottle sex appeal.
In general, fragrances considered sexy are based on musk, an odor taken from a sac beneath the abdominal skin of the male musk deer or, more often, created synthetically. “Musk ends up being a really good proxy for sex because everyone agrees it has an animal undertone,” said Dr. Vosshall, who is also an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in New York.
Eau Flirt doesn’t contain synthetics, but it uses ingredients like pumpkin, lavender and licorice, shown to increase penile blood flow. Researchers at the Chicago foundation asked men attached to a plethysmograph, a device measuring changes in volume in various parts of the body, to sniff 30 odors. All of the smells aroused them, with the combination of lavender and pumpkin pie having the greatest effect (increasing blood flow 40 percent), followed by doughnuts and black licorice (a 31.5 percent blood-flow increase).
Leslie was part of the WSF11 panel Scents and Sensibilities: The Invisible Language of Smell, which explored the emerging science of smell and how it offers a powerful window into our brains, behaviors, emotions, and communication.
During the program, the audience smelled various scent cards. When they got to galaxolide (a synthetic musk), a large portion of the audience wasn’t able to smell anything at all. In fact, many people lack the genes to detect musk, a finding that has recently given scientists tantalizing clues about the evolutionary role of scent.
Image Credit: Evan Sung for The New York Times