Dude Sweat Makes Other Dudes Nicer, Bro

Pheromones are the weirdest.

Jun 2 2013, 10:41pm
Image: The Gender Society/Creative Commons

That headline is the essence of the findings of a new study in the journal PLOS ONE. To be more specific, a suspected male pheromone called androstadienone (a component  of male sweat which can be bought in concentrated form for use by pick-up creeps) incites other males to be more cooperative and generous. Which is maybe great news for anyone wanting to take advantage of anyone else.

The study: evolutionary biologist Markus Rantala of the University of Turku in Finland took 40 males in their 20s and had them play a particular video game where two players try to figure out how to split €10. One player decides on a split and offers it to the other, who then decides whether or not to accept it. That seems to be about it, and, no, research video games are never terribly exciting.

So, you can probably see where the experiment is going. Players either got a huff of yeast (the control) or androstadienon, and were then observed playing the game. You already know the results. Interestingly, the players who had the highest testosterone levels seemed to respond strongest to the pheromone. So, sweaty males and people with high levels of testosterone (male or female, presumably) are more likely to get along.

The paper suggests that "apparently such behaviour is considered attractive by the opposite sex, and such acts may produce delayed benefits via direct reciprocation or reputation increase." These are really the usual presumed benefits of cooperation in general, or at least socialized behavior in general, but now we have a chemical to tie that to.

This also reinforces that pheromones—chemicals also capable of directing worker bees, making ants fight, precipitating all kinds of sex stuff, and more—are some of the weirdest things that nature has going. Also, again, imagine the capabilities for evil here: a chemical that makes people generous. Rantala tells Science mag, "They could spray a pheromone in a car, for example. People will feel happier in the car and will probably buy more readily." In which case, maybe the buyer could blast some back at the dealer, who suddenly becomes more interested in hooking up a good deal. The chemical mind-control race begins. 

Reach this writer at michaelb@motherboard.tv.