Questions For Piet Vroon
By John Glassie
(New York Times Magazine, August 1997)
Piet Vroon, late professor of psychology at Utrecht University in Amsterdam, wrote Smell: The Secret Seducer.
Q: Let's say we could cancel our sense of smell just to get through August in New York. Would you recommend it?
A: No. If you lose your sense of smell, you lose your emotional life. You don't smell your partner. Your memory of events becomes worse.
Q: You write about the power of pheromone-like substances in males. Can the smell of a man's armpit really be attractive to women?
A: Male armpit sweat contains substances that attract women and influence their moods. In one study, women on a committee were exposed to these substances while evaluating job applicants. They assessed the male candidates as more capable. In the past, young men would tuck handkerchiefs in their armpits while dancing and then give them to the girls. They didn't do that just for the fun of it.
Q: Research suggests that no smell is innately pleasant or unpleasant to humans, that all smell preferences have to be learned. Can that really be true?
A: It appears to be, with two exceptions: butter and corpses. Babies in all cultures like the smell of butter but not corpses. For babies, butter is the smell of milk, safety. Symbolically, it's the difference between life and death.