You smell funny

[[this post originally appeared on the other platform on 29 Jan 2010. We’re resurrecting it because J found some more research along similar lines and will be sharing it in You smell so good to me (Matings Bonus), which will be available about this time tomorrow.]]

Perfumers and associated industries spend an incredible amount of money producing various scents for our use. Deodorants mask the caucasian from smelling like goats for example. And I’m not kidding about the goal smell, either.

Some people appreciate that there’s only one scent/perfume/olfactory mask they can wear and all others make their scent foul. I’m one of those lucky ones. I can only wear musk based scents. Wear any others and I quickly clear rooms.

Ah, the joys of individual body chemistries.

And that brings us directly to this post’s topic; how do you pick a scent that will be pleasing both to you and to those you want to please?

what ever happened to love potions 1-8?

Pleasing perfumes, deodorants and their kin evolved from what we once called love potions. We would go to our village wisewoman and she would ask who we wanted to have fall in love with us, when we would see them next and whether others would be present. You’ll find this mix of questions in fairy and folk tales from around the world and with good reason.

What pleases us olfactively and vomeronasally (collectively “our sense of smell”. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of your vomeronasal sense. Nobody knew it existed until the late 1990s) is first based on our common biologies — we are designed to like certain scents and not others, then on our family’s preferences, then on our culture’s and then on our society’s as a whole.

Our olfactory senses are among the most primitive. The only older sensory system our bodies have is also the most dominant; our sense of touch. Our whole body is devoted to that sense and even our other senses yield to it. This is why it hurts when we poke ourselves in the eye. Why should it hurt? Why not just go blind for a moment or two? Because our sense of touch signals the eye is damaged before our sense of sight signals “Cover Your Eyes!”

Because olfaction is one of the oldest it often goes unnoticed by most people until there’s a really good smell or a really bad smell wafting towards us. Does the smell of freshly baked bread or frying garlic or apple pie cooling or pot roast cooking or bao steaming make your stomach growl? Or maybe just the thought of those things?

Congratulations, you’ve just noticed one evolutionary purpose of our sense of smell — to find good things to eat.

Likewise does the smell of a ripe horse or cow field cause a hasty retreat? Excellent, that’s another of it’s evolutionary purposes — to keep us out of nasty environments and situations.

And both of these grew out of our sense of smell’s original purpose — finding us someone to love.

That’s where the wisewoman’s questions come in. Did we want everybody to fall in love with us or just one person (and if personal genome sequencing kits ever come to WalMart®, be careful)? Was this someone from our village or another village? When would we see them?

The last question deals with dispersal method. Do we ingest it so that we disperse that magical scent through our pores (it takes a while) or apply it topically so that our body heat activates it (fairly rapid)?

The second question deals with those things we smelled as babies and growing up and have long forgotten. Just as there are comfort foods so there are comfort smells. Knowing where someone is from answers this.

The first question tells us the type of scent required; animal, vegetable or mineral.

The wisewoman’s questions are the same one perfumers deal with today. Much more scientifically, of course.

And usually with far worse results.

So the next time you’re considering which $150 bottle of perfume to purchase for that special occasion, consider whom you’re wanting to entice. If you know enough about them you might be just as well off with some bread, wine, cheese and a flower for your hair.


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The Stranger The Better (Matings Finale)

[[…continuing what was started in I Love the Way You Say That (Matings Part 1), Sex on the Beach (Matings Part 2), Sing Me a Little Song (Matings Part 3), Sing Me to Sleep That I Might Learn Thee Loves Me (Matings Part 4), Want to kick the habit? Play Some Music (Matings Part 5) and Appropriate Dress (Matings Part 6)]]

A fascinating piece of social research has made it to my desk. It deals with males’ success rate with females in typical mating situations.

To readers outside of social anthropology, this means “What can guys do to make sure girls notice them in bars, at clubs, in the mall, in the hall, in the cafeteria, at the dance, …?”

The research points out one of those things that’s obvious. So obvious, one might ask, “Somebody had to do research on this?”

Well, yes. Because when you think about it, it’s not what most guys do in typical mating situations and that’s probably why few males have the kind of success they want.

The Trick Is

Be a little different from your mates, your buddies, your pals, whatever you want to call them, when you go out as a group. Or if you’re not going out as a group, be a little different than most other guys when you go out where other males will be.

For example, wear flashy suspenders with bright accessories on otherwise drab, run of the mill clothing. Or a different kind of hat. Or a clown nose.

The trick is to get women to look, even for a second because that one second puts you one second ahead of the…umm…competition.

Women may not flock to you and they will, generally, be more receptive should you approach them.

It Works Because

It turns out that women of all ages cue to the different in mating situations. Neuroscience uses the term “difference sorters” for this and it means that, given one-hundred things that are all the same and only one thing among those hundred that are different, females as a group will devote attention to the one different thing before they’ll pay attention to any one of the one-hundred similar things. Evolution has designed them to look for the one perfect jaw and good teeth (for example) among all the other jaws and teeth because that one perfect jaw and good teeth meant a good hunter, good provider and better genetic material for her offspring (than the hundred other fellows with common jaws and teeth), meaning her genes had a better than average chance of survival, too.

Those evolutionary factors are still hard at work even though the pampas or forest or mountains have been replaced by malls, dance halls, cafeterias, offices and so on.

So if you’re just a little different — not a lot different — females will notice you and make a mental note that you’re interesting.

Specifically, they will note that you’re more interesting than the other males around you.

And guys, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, being interesting works really well when it comes to attracting females. Nice cars, big bankroll, great job, expensive clothes, great bling, these are all good things to, no question about it.

Of course, they’re good because they’re interesting. Especially when your competition doesn’t have them. Such things make you…umm…different.

Here’s What You Can’t Do

Different is nice and it has to be different within certain boundaries. You can’t land your hovercraft in the company parking lot and expect to get the kind of attention you want. You’ll get attention, I’m sure, simply not the kind you want from females you’d want interested in you.

You can’t wear gold like Mr. T in his heyday if you’re going to a friend’s moving party.

Be different, yes, but be different within the setting’s limits. Stand out enough to be seen, not stared at.

You’ll do fine.


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Appropriate Dress (Matings Part 6)

[[…continuing what was started in I Love the Way You Say That (Matings Part 1), Sex on the Beach (Matings Part 2), Sing Me a Little Song (Matings Part 3), Sing Me to Sleep That I Might Learn Thee Loves Me (Matings Part 4) and Want to kick the habit? Play Some Music (Matings Part 5)]]

On average, who spends more time on buying clothes, accessorizing them, and staring at their reflection to make sure everything is on just right, men or women?

This isn’t an easy one so take your time with it.

And while we’re at it, let’s up the ante — will an individual spend more time looking good when they’re out with friends or out looking for a mate?

Let’s start with whether women or men spend more time dressing and buying. If you guessed that it’s about equal, you’re correct.

Myself, I answered “women” than held up my hand. “Let me think about this,” I said.

And think I did.

Clothing is one of the most obvious and immediate demonstrations of group identity, cultural identity, ethnic identity, social class, peer recognition, … (I cover much of this in Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, fyi). It turns out that if you measure across the broadest spectrum possible men and women spend equal amounts of time making sure they look just right with men leading the mirror charge as economic groups go higher and higher.

John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever

And if they want to climb an economic or social ladder, watch out. Did you think John Travolta’s Tony Manero character spent all that time on his hair just for kicks?

It’s a pretty interesting study, the science of ornamentation, dressing and such. Anthropologists and archaeologists spend lots of time studying such things because they reveal so much about cultures, peoples and most of all mating habits.

That last part leads us to whether people spend more time pruning and preening when they’re out with friends or out mate-hunting. If you guessed people will spend more time preparing for a night out with their friends than out looking for a mate, good for you, you got it.

Women going out with the girls for a night on the town have an acute if nonconscious sense of peer group pressure and hearing “I love what that dress/blouse/skirt/… does for you” is enough to make the night grand. Likewise, men will compliment each others’ appearance, if not with outright statements then with reflective comments such as “That woman over there thinks you’re hot.”


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Want to kick the habit? Play Some Music (Matings Part 5)

[[…continuing what was started in I Love the Way You Say That (Matings Part 1), Sex on the Beach (Matings Part 2), Sing Me a Little Song (Matings Part 3) and Sing Me to Sleep That I Might Learn Thee Loves Me (Matings Part 4)]]

If you’ve following my last few posts you know I’ve been studying how sounds affect people. This is known as psychophysics and more directly, psycho-acoustics. It’s fascinating stuff.

For example, did you know that the parts of the brain that respond to music are involved in the response mechanisms to addictive substances and behaviors?

The evidence comes from various brain-scanning technologies (PET, fMRI, etc) and targeted drug therapies.

And it gets a little better, too. Not only abuse drugs, but it seems these neuronal circuits also are involved in our enjoyment of food and sex.

Food, sex and music.

Reminds me of Yasgur’s Farm.

Seriously, there’s a reason responses to food, sex, abuse drugs and music all occur in similar brain areas.

Imagine yourself as an amoeba in the primordial slime a few billion years ago. There were only two things you really wanted to do; eat and replicate. In fact, there wasn’t much about your primitive biology that was geared to doing anything else. Not only your primitive biology but the primitive biologies of every other living organism that was going to survive, eating and replicating were extremely important, and because they were you and your kind survived.

A few million years go by. Your multi-cellular. You might even be swimming in some ocean and getting ready to traipse across some land. There’s really only two reasons you’d want to do that. First, there might be food. Second, there might be someone cute.

Food and sex still rule.

Many million more years go by. Many, many. You’re walking around on the land now and you might still be swimming. You might be flying or gliding. In all cases, your mobility is a function of your need to eat — find food — and reproduce — find yourself a cutie. These two functions have taken on such importance to both your and your species’ survival that your brain has started to do things to get your attention when you eat or mate. It started to develop some reward circuitry and about the only time it fires is when you’re doing things that directly insure both your and your species’ survival.

Food and sex again. Only now we’re getting rewarded in new ways for our efforts.

Lots more millions of years go by. You’ve done well. There are so many of your species now that in order to reproduce you have to demonstrate that you’re better than your peers. How might you do that? Evolution comes up with a way. Originally your flopping around or flapping your wings or clapping your flippers happened by accident but it still made potential mates look your way rather than at your peers. Given eons those accidental sounds became intentional mating calls, tweets, splashes and flaps.

Then we started adding rhythms so that potential mates would be able to pick our grunts and groans out of the crowd.

Then we started howling and calling. That’s how music was born.

And the ones of us who made the best music got the most reward.

It’s those reward circuits that drugs of abuse fire. The same ones that got us standing up on our hind legs and reading these words rather than dying off millenia ago.

Knowing their origins, it’s not odd at all that food, sex, abuse drugs and music go together, is it?

So if you really want to kick the habit, learn to play some music. Food, sex and drugs are sometimes recognized as addictional vectors in our society. Not so with music. Not yet.


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The Lost Postlude to ‘Social Media: Exafference – Passive Participation (the “They’re Giving You Their Time” Part) – and Reafference, or Creating Active Participation’

[[First, we’re not sure if this ever saw the light of day and are publishing it simply for completeness’ sake (that’s a big thing around here, completeness). This post completes an arc started in The Lost Prelude to “Human Nature Meets Social Media – The Brain Science Behind Participation by Joseph Carrabis, DishyMix Guest Blogger”, followed by Human Nature Meets Social Media – The Brain Science Behind Participation by Joseph Carrabis, DishyMix Guest Blogger and Social Media: Exafference – Passive Participation (the “They’re Giving You Their Time” Part) – and Reafference, or Creating Active Participation. While we have your attention, you should buy copies of Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation and Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History because we’re doing all this resurrecting and publishing because of those two books.]]

So, distilling the 20+ pages of notes I made in order to answer Alex’s question, we tie it all together with some simple rules (bet you thought I’d never get here, huh?). These rules work in print, in text, in audio, video, rich media, poor media, social media, your choice…

  • When communicating to your audience and wanting to motivate them you must be motivated yourself
  • When communicating to your audience and wanting them to take action you must be active in the way you want them active
  • Be like Hemingway – keep it simple with as little embellishment as possible
  • Be confident – watch what you write, use as images, use as podcasts, use as video and make sure everything is consistent, not in the large but always in the small
  • Video/Podcasts – let your guests correct themselves, don’t correct them (unless it’s a glaring error)
  • Video/Podcasts – keep self corrections to a minimum (again, unless it’s a glaring error)
  • Video/Podcasts – when you become aware of an error in a previous episode mention it publicly and hopefully before your audience brings it to your attention
  • All forms – show concrete images, use concrete terms, etc., to cause people to take action
  • Direct Address – when asking people to take part make sure they know it’s totally up to them (taking part is their choice)
  • Direct Address – when asking people to take part make sure they know there’s no ongoing commitment on their side, they are under no obligation (this is a biggee as both research and business studies show people are more likely to take part in an endeavor if they believe it to be a one shot deal even though they usually habituate to the activity)

Further suggestions on this subject that are highly specific to social media can be found in my SNCR Awards Gala presentation (and don’t be surprised that the crux of encouraging activity on a social media site should involve common sense and good manners):

  • Give Credit Where It Is Due
  • Admit Your Mistakes
  • Manage the Discussion
  • Be Honest
  • Lead the Discussion
  • Explain Everything

There’s actually a lot more that gets into very specific areas:

  • Keep overt competitiveness to a minimum of at all on female-oriented social media sites
  • Demonstrate reciprocity on male-oriented social media sites
  • Demonstrate the actions you want members to engage in several times in several ways across several elements of the social media site
  • Reward employees for taking part in company social media activities (studies show such employees are usually happier and more productive)
  • There’s a wide variety of social networking factors involved (many of which I’ve documented elsewhere)

Let me know if there’s a serious interest out there and I’ll schedule a series of podcasts or webinars or some such that will cover this material. People who’ve seen my conference presentations know what those can be like.


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