We describe the role of social odours in sexual arousal and maintaining pairbonds in biparental and cooperatively breeding primates. Social odours are complex chemical mixtures produced by an organism that can simultaneously provide information about species, kinship, sex, individuality and reproductive state. They are long lasting and have advantages over other modalities. Both sexes are sensitive to changes in odours over the reproductive cycle and experimental disruption of signals can lead to altered sexual behaviour within a pair. We demonstrate, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), that social odours indicating reproductive state directly influence the brain areas responsible for sexual behaviour. Social odours also influence other brain areas typically involved in motivation, memory and decision making, suggesting that these signals have more complex functions in primates than mere sexual arousal. We demonstrate a rapid link between social odours and neuroendocrine responses that are modulated by a male's social status. Recent work on humans shows similar responses to social odours. We conclude with an integration of the importance of social odours on sexual arousal and maintaining pairbonds in socially biparental and cooperatively breeding species, suggesting new research directions to integrate social behaviour, neural activation and neuroendocrine responses.
One contribution of 14 to a Theme Issue ‘The neurobiology of social recognition, attraction and bonding’.
- © 2006 The Royal Society