Odor is an interesting thing. In scientific tests, babies seem to be able to distinguish between their parents’ odor and that of strangers. Moms can differentiate their newborns’ scent at only three days (!!) old – and new dads can tell their baby’s scent by the time their baby is roughly 3 weeks old. Crazy stuff, eh? There seems to be some rhyme and reason – subconscious or not – to how sex partners choose each other too.
Reader Misty commented on a recent MSP post related to a study that showed that women’s rated men’s body odor (specifically, arm pit odor) as more pleasant, more attractive and less intense during a two week period when the men did not eat meat as opposed to the two week period when men did eat meat. The women didn’t know the men nor did they know what type of diet the men were on (instead, the women sniffed samples of arm pit pads provided for the study). There were no differences in women’s ratings of the "masculinity" of men in each sample. It is also worth noting that women did not find the meat eaters’ samples to be UNattractive; they were just rated as slightly (but significantly) lower in certain rating areas.
When I first posted on the study I had only read the abstract. Then I received the full text version of the study and I have to say, I was very impressed with how careful the researchers were to control as many characteristics of the study as possible. For instance, if they asked a guy in the non-meat group to eat a meal like vegetable risotto then they would ask a guy in the meat group to eat a meal like pork risotto. In other words, they tried to match their diets as much as possible. During the final few days of each two week period of meat or non-meat assignment, the men were provided all of their meals and all of their snacks for the day so that they wouldn’t slip up and eat or drink the unassigned types of foods. There are more details but suffice it to say that the study seems to have been well-designed and carried out.
Misty raised an interesting point – that although as a vegetarian she appreciates when new stories like this one come out, she also wonders about the evolutionary wisdom of results such as these. Might it have been more expected for women to find men who eat meat to be more attractive than men who do not (e.g., men who are successful "hunters")? Perhaps. Then again, maybe you want an avide hunter in your tribe but not as the father to your children, as you want that man closer to home. Also, it’s not just the hunters who presumably ate meat – I’d guess that many, if not most, of the men (and women too?) did. Then again, all that assumes that women value hunters who can aid in their own and their child’s survival. That’s something I feel conflicted about. Considering that many hunter/gatherer types lived in tribes or nomadic groups of people, it seems to me that perhaps it mattered less to a woman whether her particular babydaddy survived as long as her "people" cared for her and her child(ren) and she for theirs – as in, the "it takes a village" mentality.