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The Great Pheromone Myth

Richard L. Doty

Publication Year: 2010

Mammalian pheromones, audiomones, visuomones, and snarks—Richard Doty argues that they all belong in the same category: objects of imagination. For more than 50 years, researchers—including many prominent scientists—have identified pheromones as the triggers for a wide range of mammalian behaviors and endocrine responses. In this provocative book, renowned olfaction expert Richard L. Doty rejects this idea and states bluntly that, in contrast to insects, mammals do not have pheromones. Doty systematically debunks the claims and conclusions of studies that purport to reveal the existence of mammalian pheromones. He demonstrates that there is no generally accepted scientific definition of what constitutes a mammalian pheromone and that attempts to divide stimuli and complex behaviors into pheromonal and nonpheromonal categories have primarily failed. Doty's controversial assertion belies a continued fascination with the pheromone concept, numerous claims of its chemical isolation, and what he sees as the wasted expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars by industry and government. The Great Pheromone Myth directly challenges ideas about the role chemicals play in mammalian behavior and reproductive processes. It is a must-have reference for biologists, psychologists, neuroscientists, and readers interested in animal behavior, ecology, and evolution.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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p. vii-vii

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pp. ix-xi

The pheromone concept, derived for insects, was first applied to mammals in the early 1960s. Although there is disagreement as to what constitutes a mammalian pheromone, such an agent is most commonly viewed as an innate biologically derived chemical that induces a well-defined behavioral or endocrine response in an invariant and species-specific manner. In nonhuman mammals, such diverse functions as sex...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-4

It has been nearly a half century since the term pheromone was first applied to chemically mediated mammalian behaviors and endocrine responses (Parkes and Bruce, 1961; Wilson and Bossert, 1963; Whitten, 1966) and 40 years since Alex Comfort published his speculative but influential Nature paper entitled “Likelihood of Human Pheromones” (Comfort, 1971). Where has the field of mammalian pheromone investigation gone since then? What progress has been made? Where are the...

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2. What Is a Mammalian Pheromone?

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pp. 5-31

The pheromone concept, when applied to mammals, seems to have morphed into multiple identities, making it difficult, like astrology, to tie down as a scientific entity. That being said, this concept—in its broadest sense—has profoundly and indelibly influenced the modern zeitgeist in which the nature of chemosensation, indeed biology itself, is viewed. This influence extends across all levels of biological science, from the molecular study of gene expression and regulation, sensory transduction, and neuroendocrine function to the macroscopic study of social...

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3. Mammals Are Not Insects

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pp. 32-46

The problems with the pheromone concept described in Chapter 2 are not generally appreciated. Mammals have much more complex nervous systems than insects. A number of their physiological responses to external stimuli—including overt behaviors and internal hormonal changes—often are tempered, guided, and in some cases determined...

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4. Scent Marking

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pp. 47-55

In this chapter the influences of learning will be shown to be particularly salient in responses to conspecific scent marks or depositions commonly said to contain pheromones, emphasizing the fact that invariant responses to chemical stimuli are not the norm in mammals. Scent marking is one of the most common socially related behaviors of mammals. As a sexually dimorphic trait, species-specific behaviors used...

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5. The Elusive Snarks Case Studies of Nonhuman Mammalian “Releasing” Pheromones

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pp. 56-97

By this time some readers may have begun to entertain the thought that mammalian pheromones may truly be snarks, being difficult if not impossible to identify. As indicated in Chapters 2 and 3, hundreds of studies have appeared in the past half century claiming that the mammalian behaviors or endocrine events they describe are due to pheromones. However, as indicated by Buck (2000), “few mammalian pheromones...

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6. The Elusive Snarks Case Studies of Nonhuman Mammalian “Priming” Pheromones

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pp. 98-124

The influences of urine or body odors on the endocrine state of mammals of the same species have been attributed to “priming” pheromones. Although most claims of such pheromones have been made for rodents, some have been made for non-rodents, including dogs, sheep, goats, and humans. The possibility that humans have priming pheromones has captured the imagination of scientists and laypersons alike, and is...

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7. Human Pheromones

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pp. 125-184

Whether humans have pheromones was listed by Science magazine as one of the top 100 outstanding scientific questions of 2005 (Anonymous, 2005). Over the course of the past three decades, numerous claims have been made that human pheromones influence sexual attraction, mate selection, moods, behaviors, seating patterns in offices, and endocrine function in both sexes. Although no chemical...

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8. Implications

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pp. 185-195

I began this book with a reference to Lewis Carroll’s poem, The Hunting of the Snark, which chronicles the “impossible voyage of an improbable crew to find an inconceivable creature.” I end this book by elaborating further on the problems with the pheromone concept and how scientists can extract themselves from the chaos of misinformation that arises from its use. As described later in this chapter, this dichotomous ...


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pp. 197-205


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pp. 207-266

Name Index

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pp. 267-273

Subject Index

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pp. 274-278

E-ISBN-13: 9780801898105
E-ISBN-10: 0801898102
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801893476
Print-ISBN-10: 080189347X

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 4 halftones, 14 line drawings
Publication Year: 2010