Psychological state and mood effects of steroidal chemosignals in women and men

Suma Jacob, Martha K. McClintock

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183 Scopus citations


We tested the hypothesis that isolated steroids, claimed to act like pheromones, affect human psychological state or mood. In the first experiment, we established that two steroids, Δ4,16-androstadien-3-one and 1,3,5(10)16-estratetraen-3-ol, modulated emotional states within 6 min of exposure. In men and women, neither steroid had specific effects on states of alertness or negative-confused mood. However, both steroids increased positive stimulated mood state in women but decreased it in men. These psychological findings do not parallel the reported sexually specific effects of these two steroids on the surface potential activity of putative vomeronasal epithelium. In a second experiment on women, we replicated that Δ4,16-androstadien-3-one modulated their general mood state, even when women were not aware of its odor and gave identical olfactory descriptions for the steroid and the control carrier solutions. In this within-subjects, repeated- measures experiment, androstadienone prevented the deterioration in general mood which occurred during exposure to the clove oil carrier solution in the laboratory environment. Thus, androstadienone appears to modulate affect, rather than releasing stereotyped behaviors or emotions. It is premature to call these steroids human pheromones. They are nonetheless psychologically potent, mandating future work delineating their function - i.e., whether these steroids are communicative chemosignals, context specific, or related to unconscious associations. In light of these modulatory effects and the complexity of human behavior, the function of chemosignals and pheromonal systems in a variety of species may need to be expanded to include the concept of modulators, as well as the traditional releasers, primers, and signaling compounds. (C) 2000 Academic Press.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-78
Number of pages22
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2000

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Mind-Body Network of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the NIH MERIT Award R37 MH41788 to Martha K. McClintock, and the Olfactory Research Fund’s Tova Fellowship to Suma Jacob. We thank Davinder Hayreh, Sheila Garcia, and Natasha Spencer for their commitment and long-term help with data collection and processing. We appreciate Harriet de Wit’s assistance with creating the psychological test battery. Special thanks to Bethanne Zelano for her superb graphing abilities and support during the completion of this work.


  • Chemosignals
  • Emotion
  • Mood
  • Pheromones
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Steroids


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