By Patricia Reaney
London - Don't underestimate the power of body chemistry.
Chemical signals secreted from the pores can increase perceptions of attractiveness in both men and women, British researchers said on Thursday.
The chemicals, called pheromones, have been known to influence social and sexual behaviour in animals.
New research presented at the British Psychological Society's annual conference in Winchester showed the chemicals could play a similar role in humans.
"Male pheromones can, under certain circumstances, improve female perception of certain aspects of male attractiveness," Dr Nick Neave, of the University of Northumbria, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
The odourless chemicals produced under the armpits in humans unconsciously influence people.
Neave and his colleagues showed that by increasing the exposure of women to male pheromones they could enhance their perception of male attractiveness.
The scientists asked 32 women to rate the attractiveness of characters in a vignette or story, drawings of body shapes and photographs of men.
After exposing the same women to the male pheromones, they asked them to repeat their ratings. Two weeks later, when the women were in a different phase of their monthly cycle, they repeated both experiments.
All of the women increased their ratings of attractiveness in the presence of the male pheromones. The man who had been rated the least handsome had the biggest boost on the looks scale.
"In the presence of the pheromones, all the faces were rated more attractive but in particular the face that had been pre-rated as being least attractive," said Neave.
The findings, which mirrored the results of an Austrian study of the effects of female pheromones on men, also showed the chemicals had the biggest impact on women in the mid-point of their cycle.
"Other studies have shown in the past that the presence of an oral contraceptive pill can dampen down female perceptions of certain things like pheromones," Neave said.
The study of the effect of pheromones in humans is still in its early stages. But pheromones have been shown to play an important role in animals.
They influence the choice of a mating partner in hamsters, determine when a rats will wean their pups and play a part in dominance relationships among male elephants.
Up to 700 psychologists were attending the three-day conference in southwest England. - Reuters