Monday, December 3, 2007

Interview with Dr. Rachel Herz, author of Scent of Desire on

Brut Force
An expert on "smell psychology" describes how the fragrance industry has ruined modern mating.

by Catrinel Bartolomeu, November 27, 2007

When I made out with Matt behind the arts-and-crafts building the summer after eighth grade, his breath smelled like tennis balls. Then, a few years ago, I opened a can of tennis balls close to my face and caught a whiff of that rubbery glue. I immediately remembered Matt's sharp, speckled cheekbone lit by a fluorescent light. I liked making out with him then, I like the memory of it today, and I play tennis often.

This phenomenon is explained in The Scent of Desire, a new book by Rachel Herz, a psychologist widely recognized as the world's leading expert on the influences of smell. Using everything from cognitive-behavioral techniques to MRIs, Herz explains how our olfactory abilities help determine who we date, who we dump and what we buy, be it the directionless unemployed loser we can't stop thinking about, the gorgeous heart surgeon who repulses us, or the strawberry-scented car freshener that, for some reason, turns us on every time we slide into our hatchback. — Catrinel Bartolomeu

Your book is the first scholarly study I've read that talks about the phenomenon of breaking up with someone because of their smell. I've actually ended relationships for that reason. It's a relief to have that validated.
Our body odor is the external manifestation of our immune system. The immune-system match is particularly important for women because they have a huge cost to bear in terms of the time and energy it takes to reproduce. If the goal is to go forth and multiply, you want to make sure that any child you have is going to survive and reproduce, and the most important thing in that respect is that they're healthy. But there's no Brad Pitt of body odor — it's about the fit between your immune system and somebody else's. His immune system can't be too close to yours because it might pair up something bad. Women's sensitivity to scent is highest during ovulation, when it's most important that you're making the correct choice. But this is all thrown out of whack if you're on the pill.

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