Psychological state and mood effects of steroidal chemosignals in women and men

Horm Behav. 2000 Feb;37(1):57-78. doi: 10.1006/hbeh.1999.1559.


We tested the hypothesis that isolated steroids, claimed to act like pheromones, affect human psychological state or mood. In the first experiment, we established that two steroids, Delta4, 16-androstadien-3-one and 1,3,5(10)16-estratetraen-3-ol, modulated emotional states within 6 min of exposure. In men and women, neither steroid had specific effects on states of alertness or negative-confused mood. However, both steroids increased positive stimulated mood state in women but decreased it in men. These psychological findings do not parallel the reported sexually specific effects of these two steroids on the surface potential activity of putative vomeronasal epithelium. In a second experiment on women, we replicated that Delta4,16-androstadien-3-one modulated their general mood state, even when women were not aware of its odor and gave identical olfactory descriptions for the steroid and the control carrier solutions. In this within-subjects, repeated-measures experiment, androstadienone prevented the deterioration in general mood which occurred during exposure to the clove oil carrier solution in the laboratory environment. Thus, androstadienone appears to modulate affect, rather than releasing stereotyped behaviors or emotions. It is premature to call these steroids human pheromones. They are nonetheless psychologically potent, mandating future work delineating their function-i.e., whether these steroids are communicative chemosignals, context specific, or related to unconscious associations. In light of these modulatory effects and the complexity of human behavior, the function of chemosignals and pheromonal systems in a variety of species may need to be expanded to include the concept of modulators, as well as the traditional releasers, primers, and signaling compounds.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / drug effects*
  • Androstadienes / pharmacology
  • Arousal / drug effects
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Emotions / drug effects
  • Estrenes / pharmacology
  • Eugenol
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Menstrual Cycle / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychological Tests
  • Smell / drug effects
  • Steroids / pharmacology*


  • Androstadienes
  • Estrenes
  • Steroids
  • 1,3,5,(10),16-estratetraen-3-ol
  • Eugenol
  • 4,16-androstadien-3-one