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Women’s preference for dominant male odour: effects of menstrual cycle and relationship status
Biology Letters ^ | Jan Havlicek, S. Craig Roberts, Jaroslav Flegr

Posted on 07/08/2005 5:52:44 AM PDT by TigerLikesRooster

 J. Havlicek and others Male dominance and odour attractiveness Biol. Lett.



Biol. Lett.
Published online

Women’s preference for dominant male odour:
effects of menstrual cycle and relationship status

Jan Havlicek(1),*, S. Craig Roberts (2)
and Jaroslav Flegr (3)

(1) Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Humanities, Charles
University, Husnikova 2075, 155 00 Prague, Czech Republic

(2)Evolutionary Psychology and Behavioural Ecology Research Group,
School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool
L69 3BX, UK

(3)Department of Parasitology, Faculty of Science, Charles University,
Vinicna 7, 127 44 Prague, Czech Republic
*Author for correspondence (

Body odour may provide significant cues about
a potential sexual partner’s genetic quality,
reproductive status and health. In animals, a
key trait in a female’s choice of sexual partner is
male dominance but, to date, this has not been
examined in humans. Here, we show that
women in the fertile phase of their cycle prefer
body odour of males who score high on a
questionnaire-based dominance scale (international
personality items pool). In accordance
with the theory of mixed mating strategies, this
preference varies with relationship status, being
much stronger in fertile women in stable
relationships than in fertile single women.

Keywords: attractiveness; scent; smell; good genes;
mate choice; sexual selection

In many systems, dominance-associated traits have
been suggested as honest signals of male genetic
quality. Several studies on rodent species have
reported preferences for the odour of dominant males
(e.g. Mossman & Drickamer 1996; Kruczek 1997;
Gosling & Roberts 2001). Odour cues may also play
a substantial role in human mate choice. For instance,
women prefer the smell of men with low fluctuating
asymmetry (Thornhill & Gangestad 1999), which is
considered to be a marker of genetic and developmental
stability and is an important factor influencing
visual attractiveness (Gangestad & Simpson 2000). In
addition, humans prefer the scent of opposite-sex
individuals with major histocompatibility complex
(MHC) genes that are dissimilar (Wedekind et al.
1995; Wedekind & Fu¨ ri 1997) or intermediately
dissimilar ( Jacob et al. 2002) to their own (see also
Thornhill et al. 2003). Such preferences might result
in more viable offspring (Penn 2002).
It has also been observed that preference for
men’s scent depends on the menstrual cycle phase
of women. In controlled experiments, only the
women near peak fertility within their cycle preferred
scent of men with low fluctuating asymmetry

(Gangestad &Thornhill 1998; Rikowski & Grammer
1999; Thornhill & Gangestad 1999; Thornhill et al.
2003). Similarly, research on facial attractiveness
indicates that female preference for visual masculinity
(a trait putatively correlated with dominance)
varies across the cycle (Penton-Voak et al. 1999) and
with partnership status (Little et al. 2002). In this
study, we investigated whether women’s preference
for odour of dominant males also varies cyclically
and between single women and those in stable


(a) Odour stimuli
Forty-eight male students aged between 19 and 27 were asked to
complete an 11-item questionnaire on dominance from the
international personality items pool (; Goldberg
1999) and to wear cotton pads in their armpits for 24 h. Pads
(Premium cosmetic pads, Boots, were 100%
cotton, elliptical in shape, approximately 9!7 cm at their longest
axis and held in place using MicroporeTM surgical tape (Boots).
The questionnaire was used in its original form and corresponds to
the scale ‘Narcissism’ in the widely used California psychological
inventory (CPI). Subjects were instructed to avoid spicy and smelly
food, alcohol, smoking or using any scented cosmetics on both the
evening before and during the day when they were wearing the pads.

(b) Subjects and experimental procedure
Freshly collected pads were presented to 30 female students (mean
age 20.6 years) in their follicular phase (days 9 to 15) and to 35
female students (mean age 20.2 years) in other phases of the cycle.
The range of days included as falling into the follicular phase (i.e.
fertile period) was based on results showing that probability of
conception is highest within this ‘fertile window’ (Wilcox et al.
2000). None of the women were using hormonal contraception.
Each of them rated the odour of 10 pads for their intensity, sexiness
and masculinity using a 7-point scale. The ratings from each
woman were converted to z-scores to compute the correlation
between male odour and male dominance as measured by the
questionnaire. The obtained correlation coefficients showed a
normal distribution and, therefore, were compared with random
expectation (rZ0) using one-sample t-tests. Although our design is
between-subjects in nature, this should tend to make our results
conservative compared with a within-subjects design.

We found a positive correlation between male psychological
dominance assessed by the questionnaire and
odour sexiness when rated by women in their fertile
phase (t29Z3.1, pZ0.004, mean rZ0.20) but not in
other phases of their cycle. Subsequently, we tested
separately the women who reported to be single and
those who were in a heterosexual romantic relationship.
A strong association between male odour
sexiness and psychological dominance was only found
for non-single women in the fertile phase of their
menstrual cycle (t12Z4.4, pZ0.0008, rZ0.29;
figure 1). There was no significant correlation
between male psychological dominance and perceived
masculinity of their body odour when rated by single
women, regardless of phase of their cycle. In contrast,
we found a negative correlation between male
dominance and intensity of body odour for both
female subsamples (fertile phase of the cycle,
t29Z2.3, pZ0.03, rZK0.13; rest of cycle, t34Z3.0,
pZ0.005, rZK0.18; figure 2). As this effect was
observed irrespective of menstrual cycle phase, the
shifts in attractiveness of dominant males cannot be
explained by variation in odour sensitivity across the
cycle (Doty et al. 1981).

Received 14 March 2005 Accepted 4 April 2005

 2005 The Royal Society

2 J. Havlicek and others Male dominance and odour attractiveness Biol. Lett.


Figure 1. Mean (Gs.e.m.) correlation coefficient between
the male dominance score and their odour attractiveness
rated by single (open bars) or partnered women (grey bars)
in the fertile and non-fertile phases of their cycle.

Our results indicate that psychological dominance is
associated with odour attractiveness. The preference
for the odour of dominant men varies with menstrual
cycle phase and partnership status of women. The
published evidence that men who are visually perceived
as dominant are also rated attractive is,
however, ambiguous. A positive correlation between
attractiveness and perceived dominance was found in
one study (Neave et al. 2003), but others have found
negative correlations (Perrett et al. 1998; Swaddle &
Reierson 2002). None of the studies on facial attractiveness
investigated actual dominance in local hierarchies
or psychological dominance (i.e. tendency to
dominate) of the target subjects. Therefore, it is not
clear whether dominant-looking men have a genuine
tendency to dominate or whether the attribution of
dominance based on facial appearance is misplaced.
Evidence for the former suggestion comes from
Mueller & Mazur’s (1997) study, which found that
dominant-looking men reach higher military rank
compared with those who look rather submissive.
However, even in this case, it remains possible that
achieved rank is influenced by dominant appearance
without necessarily implying a direct link with
psychological dominance.
Although we find that psychological dominance
predicts odour attractiveness, we find no significant
correlation between dominance and perceived odour
masculinity. It has been shown that women rate the
smell of androstenone more positively around the
time of ovulation (Hummel et al. 1991; Grammer
1993). This substance is a significant constituent of
axillary odour and is found in much higher concentrations
in men than in women (Gower et al. 1985).
More objective measurement of odour masculinity
(e.g. levels of 16 androstenes in the axilla) was
unfortunately not available in our study. Dominance
is stereotypically attributed to more masculine faces
(Perrett et al. 1998).


Figure 2. Correlation between standardized ratings of odour
intensity and males’ dominance score. (a) Ratings by
women in the fertile phase of their cycle, (b) Ratings by
women in other phase of their cycle. The two correlations
are significant ( p!0.05).

However, it is possible that the
relationship between dominance and both perceived
and measured odour masculinity differs qualitatively
from the relationship between dominance and facial
There is no common agreement on the interpretation
of the association between dominance and
attractiveness. Some researchers have suggested that
the high mating value of dominant men is a result of
their tendency to reaching higher socio-economical
status and, therefore, gaining the resources that they
may invest in their mate and offspring (Mueller &
Mazur 1997). Alternatively, dominance has been
suggested to honestly reflect male genetic quality.
Tendency to dominate is a risky strategy in competitive
encounters and is associated with higher levels of
testosterone, which may reduce immunocompetence
in various species (Folstad & Karter 1992); dominance
could, therefore, reliably indicate male condition.
There is also evidence that males of high
genetic quality have a tendency for lower parental
investment (Waynforth 1998). In response, a mixed
mating strategy may have evolved in females: they
prefer genetically superior males as short-term or
extra-pair sexual partners while, at the same time,
they seek males who are more willing to invest in their
offspring as long-term or social partners (Reynolds
1996; Penton-Voak et al. 1999; Blomqvist et al. 2002;
Foerster et al. 2003). This interpretation is consistent
with our findings that women in stable relationships
have a strong tendency to prefer the smell of
dominant men when in the fertile phase of their cycle,
while single women and all women in non-fertile
phases lack this preference.
Changes in preference for mate-related traits
during the menstrual cycle have been demonstrated
repeatedly. Researchers have focused particularly on
body odour, symmetry and facial masculinity. The
results of four different studies show that the body
odour of symmetrical men is rated as more attractive

 J. Havlicek and others Male dominance and odour attractiveness Biol. Lett.

by women in the fertile phase but not other phases of
the cycle (Gangestad & Thornhill 1998; Rikowski &
Grammer 1999; Thornhill & Gangestad 1999;
Thornhill et al. 2003). Several studies also report that
women in the fertile phase of their cycle prefer
relatively more masculine faces (Penton-Voak et al.
1999; Penton-Voak & Perrett 2000; Johnston et al.
2001). The relative preference for more masculine
faces was found also when rated by single women or
in a short-term partnership context (Little et al.
2002). All of the above-mentioned studies are congruent
with our findings and support the hypothesis
about female mixed mating strategies dependent on
their cyclical and partnership states.
The proximate mechanism responsible for the
correlation between psychological dominance and
odour sexiness is unknown. Nevertheless, previous
studies have shown that emotional state (e.g. fear or
happiness) may influence perception of body odour
quality (Chen & Haviland-Jones 2000; Ackerl et al.
2002). The higher self-confidence of dominant males
may also have an impact on the perceived sexiness of
their body odour.
We thank all volunteers for their participation in the study,
two anonymous referees for their comments on the manuscript
and Jindra Jileckova for language corrections. This
study was supported in part by the NATO Science Fellowship
and the Owen F. Aldis Fund (J.H.) and grant no.
0021620828 awarded to J.F. by the Czech Ministry of

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Wallander, K. & Kempenaers, B. 2002 Genetic similarity
between mates and extra-pair parentage in three species
of shorebirds. Nature 419, 613?615.
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communication of emotion. Percept. Mot. Skills 91,
Doty, R. L., Snyder, P. J., Huggins, G. R. & Lowry, L. D.
1981 Endocrine, cardiovascular, and psychological correlates
of olfactory sensitivity changes during menstrualcycle.
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T., Burt, D. M., Murray, L. K. & Minamisawa, R. 1999
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TOPICS: Health/Medicine
KEYWORDS: bo; dominance; malepreference; menstrual; mentstralcycle; odor; odorific; odour; sweat; toughguy; women
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PDF version complete with missing two figures above:

1 posted on 07/08/2005 5:52:45 AM PDT by TigerLikesRooster
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To: neverdem; blam; SunkenCiv

This has some evolutionary implication.

2 posted on 07/08/2005 5:54:01 AM PDT by TigerLikesRooster
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To: TigerLikesRooster
In the above, the link to Biology Letters is not working properly. Here is the working link:,5,30;journal,1,3;linkingpublicationresults,1:110824,1

3 posted on 07/08/2005 5:58:13 AM PDT by TigerLikesRooster
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To: TigerLikesRooster

Can't anything be private anymore? What was the purpose of posting this article?

4 posted on 07/08/2005 6:01:17 AM PDT by Sangria
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To: TigerLikesRooster
I never thought I would be posting to an article on this subject. So ignore this post and don't read it Thank you.
5 posted on 07/08/2005 6:01:18 AM PDT by A.B.Normal (Craziness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result, ask a Liberal.)
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To: TigerLikesRooster

The French know all about this.

6 posted on 07/08/2005 6:02:14 AM PDT by Fitzcarraldo
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To: TigerLikesRooster

"dominant male odour"

I am king.

7 posted on 07/08/2005 6:03:07 AM PDT by Rebelbase (Mexico, the 51st state.)
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To: TigerLikesRooster

Mark for later.

8 posted on 07/08/2005 6:03:52 AM PDT by Petronski (BRABANTIO: Thou art a villain! ---- IAGO: You are--a senator.)
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To: TigerLikesRooster

I believe Dr. Lector wrote the definitive study.

9 posted on 07/08/2005 6:04:37 AM PDT by johnny7 (“Hey ma.... top of the world!” -Jody Garrett)
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To: TigerLikesRooster
where is a dealership for one of those Menstrual Cycles. I really like Harley's but I would like to see what one of those are.
10 posted on 07/08/2005 6:09:23 AM PDT by Piquaboy (22 year veteran of the Army, Air Force and Navy, Pray for all our military .)
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To: pissant
Here, we show that women in the fertile phase of their cycle prefer body odour of males who score high on a questionnaire-based dominance scale (international personality items pool).

How-much-do-you-smell ping! ;^)

11 posted on 07/08/2005 6:12:46 AM PDT by Yo-Yo
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To: Piquaboy

You don't want one of those, they can be a real b!tch to ride.

12 posted on 07/08/2005 6:12:51 AM PDT by stevio (Red-Blooded American Male (NRA))
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To: TigerLikesRooster

I hope to God that this had no tax monies involved with this 'science.' In any event, being the exemplar working class filth on this forum, I concur with the findings. Chicks dig a sweaty workman with a low-slung tool belt.

13 posted on 07/08/2005 6:13:56 AM PDT by WorkingClassFilth (NEW and IMPROVED: Now with 100% more Tyrannical Tendencies and Dictator Envy!)
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To: Piquaboy
Performance and economy are great, but as always, "your fecundity may vary."
14 posted on 07/08/2005 6:15:38 AM PDT by Petronski (BRABANTIO: Thou art a villain! ---- IAGO: You are--a senator.)
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To: Sangria

Trying to prove that women are just animals attracted by odor?

15 posted on 07/08/2005 6:16:49 AM PDT by B4Ranch ( Report every illegal alien that you meet. Call 866-347-2423, Employers use 888-464-4218)
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To: TigerLikesRooster

Ah the smell of OLD SPICE in the morning.

16 posted on 07/08/2005 6:17:30 AM PDT by mware ("God is dead" -- Nietzsche........ "Nope, you are"-- GOD)
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To: TigerLikesRooster

i must smell good because i have no shortage of women who want my credit cards!

17 posted on 07/08/2005 6:17:52 AM PDT by ken21 (it takes a village to brainwash your child + to steal your property! /s)
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To: TigerLikesRooster

This is very old news. No less an authority than National Geographic covered this decades ago.

18 posted on 07/08/2005 6:20:21 AM PDT by Eric in the Ozarks
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To: stevio


19 posted on 07/08/2005 6:22:14 AM PDT by techcor (DUmmy screed: "To insanity, and beyond!")
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To: TigerLikesRooster


20 posted on 07/08/2005 6:26:07 AM PDT by Quix (GOD'S LOVE IS INCREDIBLE . . . BUT MUST BE RECEIVED TO . . .)
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