Letters to Nature

Nature 392, 177-179 (12 March 1998) | doi:10.1038/32408; Received 3 October 1998; Accepted 8 January 1998

Regulation of ovulation by human pheromones

Kathleen Stern1 & Martha K. McClintock1

  1. Department of Psychology, The University of Chicago, 5730 Woodlawn Ave, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA

Correspondence to: Martha K. McClintock1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to M.K.M. (e-mail: Email: mkm1@midway.uchicago.edu).

Pheromones are airborne chemical signals that are released by an individual into the environment and which affect the physiology or behaviour of other members of the same species1. The idea that humans produce pheromones has excited the imagination of scientists and the public, leading to widespread claims for their existence, which, however, has remained unproven. Here we investigate whether humans produce compounds that regulate a specific neuroendocrine mechanism in other people without being consciously detected as odours (thereby fulfilling the classic definition of a pheromone). We found that odourless compounds from the armpits of women in the late follicular phase of their menstrual cycles accelerated the preovulatory surge of luteinizing hormone of recipient women and shortened their menstrual cycles. Axillary (underarm) compounds from the same donors which were collected later in the menstrual cycle (at ovulation) had the opposite effect: they delayed the luteinizing-hormone surge of the recipients and lengthened their menstrual cycles. By showing in a fully controlled experiment that the timing of ovulation can be manipulated, this study provides definitive evidence of human pheromones.