New research suggests there might be some truth to the “Axe effect” – the media portrayal that a spritz of this popular men’s deodorant can attract women. Researchers suggest that men who are perceived as having low levels of masculinity can change such perceptions simply by wearing deodorant.
Study leader Dr. Caroline Allen, of the University of Stirling in the United Kingdom, and colleagues report their findings in the journal Evolution & Human Behavior.
Researchers have long known that natural human body odor can influence perceptions of attractiveness.
However, humans have become increasingly accustomed to concealing their natural body odors with an array of scented toiletries; each year in the United States, around $18 billion is spent on deodorant.
But how do these artificial fragrances influence human perceptions of attractiveness?
For their study, Dr. Allen and colleagues set out to investigate how wearing deodorant affects perceptions of femininity and masculinity – two characteristics that are known to influence judgment of a person’s attractiveness.
The team asked 130 participants to view photographs of 20 men and 20 women and rate how masculine or feminine they perceived them to be.
A further 239 participants were asked to rate the femininity or masculinity of 40 odor samples – with and without deodorant – of individuals who appeared in the photographs.
The researchers found that men who were rated by women as having low facial masculinity in the photograph task were also rated as having low odor masculinity if they were not wearing deodorant.
However, the masculinity rating of these men increased in the odor task if their samples contained deodorant.
“Only those men who were rated low in masculinity to start with showed a significant increase after applying their deodorants, and the men who were highly masculine initially showed no increase after deodorant application,” explains Dr. Allen.
“This means that men are able to use deodorant to artificially raise their game so to speak, leveling the playing field by making themselves comparable, at least as far as odor is concerned, to more masculine men.”
Dr. Caroline Allen
The use of deodorant appeared to have no effect on ratings of femininity or masculinity for women, the researchers note, suggesting that women are more sensitive to odor cues than men.
Dr. Allen says that it is likely women’s “evolutionary preferences” that are responsible for associating greater masculinity with deodorant use.
“Research findings show that we actually don’t like high levels of masculinity which are often associated with aggressiveness and hostility, but we show no upper limit on our femininity preferences,” she explains.