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Former CIA Clandestine Operative
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Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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This is What Love Smells Like

Everyone has a unique odor print that is built on your immune system genes and that is one of the things that attracts you to a partner. 

Everyone has a unique odor print.  So, like your fingerprints or your iris pattern in your eye, everybody is unique.  This odor print is built on your immune system genes and that is one of the things that attracts you to a partner. 

Of course, it’s not the only thing.  But it is very important.  And if you’ve ever had a lover that you just couldn’t get enough of their smell, even when they didn’t actually smell that great.  Or I think about my son, you know, he’s sort of in that not so keen on bath stage anymore, and yet, he still smells better than anything.  I think there’s definitely something about smell that orients you toward someone and makes you want to be near them.  And, of course, that’s not just in a sexual way, that’s also in a loving way.  

Studies that have looked at this odor print have found that women are most attracted, they rate the dirty t-shirts that a man has worn for three days, no deodorant, no perfumes, no fragranced detergents.  They rate that they’re most attracted to men or the smell of these dirty men’s t-shirts that have optimal immune system compatibility.  And when I say “optimal,” the idea at first was that these were immune systems that were as different as possible, so you could have all this variability and any offspring would have a better chance of facing the world.  But in fact, what these researchers have found is that women are attracted to the smells of men that are distantly related to their fathers.  So, they share some of the same smells as their father.  

And in a way, it makes sense.  Because you can’t be so different that you can’t recognize the smell, that there’s not something there that sort of – you can identify with.  But that it’s got to be different enough that any offspring who get these, you know, two immune systems together are going to have really a good shot at being healthy and being able to survive the world.  So if you found your dad’s second cousin twice removed a little more attractive than you thought you should at the last family reunion that might be part of it.  It’s not you.  It’s the odor print.  

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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