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Smell-versation: Better Tipping Through Chemistry
October 21, 2011 - By: - In: In the News / Awards - 15 comments

In our last post we talked about how a little bit of scent training on the chocolate trail could turn any college student into a natural born ol’ hound-dog, because hound dog-powered smelling is the secret ability of the human brain. All those homo sapian synapsii will put a dog’s brain to shame when it comes to olfactory fame.

In that same post I also boasted of how far off I could smell my brother coming, a testimony not only to my own abilities, but to  his own potency in getting his chemical message out there. Because in smell-versation, getting “heard” requires getting the scent out, so those that say it, spray it, in a manner of speaking.

It’s interesting that this powerful form of communication is not the kind of thing we talk about in our daily conversations. We seem to prefer to have some of our most heart-felt interactions by subtle scent alone. In most cases, the topics of these smell-versations are taboo in the spoken word, and shall not be written.

In a recent post, we saw how researchers in Israel were able to turn men off with the scent of a woman’s tears. Surely, since the distant past, those tears have saved many a day as that plea for mercy has been heard again and again. A child rubbing tears from his cheeks is a chemical jack to the better angel of our natures.  That scent-spreading behavior may not as effective as a skunk turned tail, but is  still pretty good for quickly getting the chemical message out for all to see and smell. and that is a beautiful thing.

Tears are just rapid response. Sweat and hair follicles exude an ever-changing cocktail of hormones for easy smelling by others.

Plenty of scientific studies suggest that humans unconsciously exchange chemical messages that help everyone get into the groove, whether menstrually, kinship-wise, or to share stress, fear, or some other emotional response.

The McClintock Effect, first reported in the literature in 1971, documented how women in  close quarters tend to slip into the same menstrual groove.  And it’s not just the ladies.  Men are paying attention too, and we know how by just now much, because they reach for their wallets.

Ovulating erotic dancers earn bigger tips. So how do tippers figure that out? “Ovulating Now!” is not pulsating in neon on Albuquerque’s Central Avenue. In a study conducted at my alma mater, UNM researchers discovered “the naked truth: Strippers participating in the study scored $335 in tips per five-hour shift when ovulating, compared with $260 per shift during the luteal phase after ovulation and $185 per shift while menstruating.” Go Lobos! That’s the University New Mexico Lobos, yo!

So scientists have learned that a mere whiff or lick of another’s secreted message could prompt defense, pursuit, reproduction, or many other possible behaviors,” writes Jason Castro in Scientific American.

In conversation we use phonemes as our unit of meaning, syllables and such. In a smell-versation the unit of meaning is a pheromone, a hormone-like chemistry compound transferred between animals like you and me,  via inhalation of evaporation of secretions like tears and sweat. With such a signaling mechanism, one animal could “release a specific behavior” in another, as demonstrated by those scientists  from my own UNM, in the Duke City,  Breaking Bad country, yo.

See what I mean about how smell-versation is the kind of thing we usually avoid in conversation or even thinking about? It’s the heavenly secret scent of those phonemes that is writ upon our hearts, and more measurably, on our wallets.