Always follow your nose: the functional significance of social chemosignals in human reproduction and survival

Horm Behav. 2015 Feb;68:134-44. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2014.10.001.


This article is part of a Special Issue "Chemosignals and Reproduction" Across phyla, chemosensory communication is crucial for mediating a variety of social behaviors, which form the basis for ontogenetic and phylogenetic survival. In the present paper, evidence on chemosensory communication in humans, with special reference to reproduction and survival, will be presented. First, the impact of chemosignals on human reproduction will be reviewed. Work will be presented, showing how chemosensory signals are involved in mate choice and partnership formation by communicating attractiveness and facilitating a partner selection, which is of evolutionary advantage, and furthermore providing information about the level of sexual hormones. In addition to direct effects on phylogenetic survival, chemosignals indirectly aid reproductive success by fostering harm protection. Results will be presented, showing that chemosensory communication aids the emotional bond between mother and child, which in turn motivates parental caretaking and protection, leading to infant survival. Moreover, the likelihood of group survival can be increased through the use of stress-related chemosignals. Stress-related chemosignals induce a stress-related physiology in the perceiver, thereby priming a fight-flight-response, which is necessary for an optimum adaption to environmental harm. Finally, effects of sexual orientation on chemosensory communication will be discussed in terms of their putative role in stabilizing social groups, which might indirectly provide harm protection and foster survival. An integrative model of the presented data will be introduced. In conclusion, an outlook, focusing on the involvement of chemosensory communication in human social behavior and illustrating a novel approach to the significance of chemosensory signals in human survival, will be given.

Keywords: Anxiety; Body odors; Bonding; Chemosensory communication; Chemosignals; Mate choice; Olfaction; Pheromones; Sexual orientation; Stress.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Nonverbal Communication / physiology*
  • Olfactory Perception / physiology*
  • Pheromones, Human / physiology*
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Social Behavior*


  • Pheromones, Human