The scent of a woman’s sadness — manifested in her tears — is a major turn-off for men, according to new research published today. It is the first study to suggest tears of emotion contain chemical signals that influence others’ behavior.
Although men were unable to smell the difference between real tears and a saline solution, they had decidedly different reactions to each. Men who sniffed real tears became less sexually aroused by photographs of women than those who sniffed saline. Just to be sure skin was not the culprit, the researchers dripped saline down women’s cheeks, to the same effect: Only real, fresh-cried tears turned men off.
The researchers, from the Weizmann Institute of Science and Edith Wolfson Medical Center in Israel, actually stumbled across the finding. They expected tears’ chemical signals to trigger empathy or sadness, but that didn’t happen; they did, however, dampen men’s sexual desire. Some researchers believe this phenomenon evolved to protect emotionally vulnerable women from male aggression, while others believe it’s evidence of a heretofore unknown human pheromone, reports the New York Times.
To capture tears, two donor women ages 30 and 31 watched sad movies by themselves and placed vials beneath their eyes to collect teardrops. The researchers needed fresh tears no more than two hours old, so the women watched weepies like “Terms of Endearment,” “My Sister’s Keeper” and “When a Man Loves a Woman,” the Times reports. Their tears were collected 1 milliliter at a time and deposited onto small pads that were attached beneath men’s noses, so they could continuously sniff the sadness.
Then 24 men, whose mean age was 27, were shown emotionally ambiguous photographs of women and asked to rate the faces’ sadness and their attractiveness. The faces appeared less sexually attractive after sniffing real tears, according to the study.
The researchers also learned the men experienced a drop in testosterone. Then, the men sniffed tears and watched a sad movie while in a functional MRI machine, which showed reduced activity in the brain regions associated with arousal.
Other bodily fluids, like sweat, are known to contain chemical signals that influence others’ emotions or behaviors, so it makes sense that tears would have a similar effect, the researchers say. The next step is to study the emotional tears of children and men — potentially explaining the lachrymose nature of the new Speaker of the House.