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April 18 2014

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Why Scent, Not Sentimentality, Really Matters

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While looks, sense of humor, and intelligence likely factor into your decision to date someone, their odeur probably doesn’t rank quite as high in importance (except when serious glandular issues factor in, of course). But according to research from the University of Paraná in Brazil, both sexes do subconsciously use smell as a guide when it comes to sniffing out a potential partner. Focusing on the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC), which is a section of DNA that is key to deciphering the intricacies of a person’s immune system, scientists set out to prove that in a learned, evolutionary response, we seek out mates whose MHC is significantly different from ours in order to ensure that offspring will have the broadest possible immunity against disease. Clues to the genes we carry in the MHC are found in the smell of our sweat, so their hypothesis also suggests that we subsequently choose significant others whose smell is entirely different from our own. And lo and behold, in a comparison of the genetic profiles of 90 married couples with those of 152 random pairs, the MHC genes of the real couples diverged more than those of the control group. More proof that differences, not necessarily similarities, make for successful reproduction—and yet another reason to be wary of men who wear too much cologne.

Photo: Fred Duval/FilmMagic

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