Romance has long been described as a process of bewitchment, but scientists have found that there may be more truth to this than meets the eye. They say female chemical messengers known as pheromones may help dupe men into thinking plain women are more attractive and beautiful women are less attractive than they actually are.
Pheromones - the colourless, odourless chemical signals given off by the body - are thought to affect behaviour in both animals and humans at a sub-conscious level. Research by biologists Astrid Juette and Professor Karl Grammer from the University of Vienna has found that men's perception of a woman's attractiveness is altered by the chemical signals she sends out. They exposed 76 men to synthetic vaginal pheromones without their knowledge.
They then showed them a series of photographs of women and played tapes of their voices. The pheromones, which can be perceived by the nose even though they are odourless, were then replaced by water and the men's reactions were studied. In each case, the men were asked to grade the women's attractiveness. They were more likely to think the women were attractive when they were exposed to the pheromones and the testosterone in their saliva increased.
There were also fewer differences in perceptions about attractiveness between the men when they were under the influence of the chemical messengers. Professor Grammer said: "The most amazing thing is that the attractive women lose and what they lose the others gain. "This is part of what we call the chemical warfare between the sexes, in which one tries to exploit the other."
Professor Grammer presented the University of Vienna findings to a British Psychological Society (BPS) conference in London .He also said the oral contraceptive pill could stop a woman producing pheromones and undermine her ability to pick up the right chemical signals from men. Scientists believe pheromones may help people choose biologically compatible mates.