Wen Zhouemail, Xiaoying Yang, Kepu Chen, Peng Cai, Sheng He, Yi Jiang
- •Human steroid androstadienone conveys masculinity to straight women and gay men
- •Human steroid estratetraenol conveys femininity to straight men
- •The effects take place in the absence of awareness
- •Human gender perception draws on subconscious chemosensory biological cues
Recent studies have suggested the existence of human sex pheromones, with particular interest in two human steroids: androstadienone (androsta-4,16,-dien-3-one) and estratetraenol (estra-1,3,5(10),16-tetraen-3-ol). The current study takes a critical step to test the qualification of the two steroids as sex pheromones by examining whether they communicate gender information in a sex-specific manner. By using dynamic point-light displays that portray the gaits of walkers whose gender is digitally morphed from male to female [ 1, 2 ], we show that smelling androstadienone systematically biases heterosexual females, but not males, toward perceiving the walkers as more masculine. By contrast, smelling estratetraenol systematically biases heterosexual males, but not females, toward perceiving the walkers as more feminine. Homosexual males exhibit a response pattern akin to that of heterosexual females, whereas bisexual or homosexual females fall in between heterosexual males and females. These effects are obtained despite that the olfactory stimuli are not explicitly discriminable. The results provide the first direct evidence that the two human steroids communicate opposite gender information that is differentially effective to the two sex groups based on their sexual orientation. Moreover, they demonstrate that human visual gender perception draws on subconscious chemosensory biological cues, an effect that has been hitherto unsuspected.