Karl Grammer, Wien (Vienna, Austria):

Sexualität und Geruch
(Sexuality and the Odor - Human reproductive biology and the role of pheromones)

The importance of the human sense of smell has been largely underestimated. Many people believe that human olfactory acuity and specificity have deteriorated. Other mammals are believed to be macrosmatic (i.e., better smellers) because they have more olfactory receptor cells in their nasal mucosa than humans. For example, dogs have about 230 million olfactory receptor cells, while humans have only about 10 million. Accordingly, humans and other primates typically are believed to be microsmatic (i.e., worse smellers) equipped with highly developed powers of vision that supposedly make humans “visual creatures.” This concept needs reconsideration since many recent studies have shown that olfaction plays a very importantrole in human reproductive biology, and because human reproductive biology affects human behavior.

The ‘affective primacy hypothesis’ asserts that positive and negative affective reactions can be evoked with minimal stimulus input and virtually no cognitive processing. Olfactory signals seem to induce emotional reactions, whether or not a chemical stimulus is consciously perceived. We theorize that the importance of human non-verbal signals is based upon information processing, which occurs in the limbic system, and without any cognitive (cortical) assessment. Affect thus does not require conscious interpretation of signal content. Underlying this fact is that affect dominates social interaction, and it is the major currency in social interactions. Olfactory input from the social environment is well adapted to fit such assertions. For example, chemical cues allow humans to select for, and to mate for, traits of reproductive fitness that cannot be assessed simply from visual cues. I will present examples reaching from the unconscious perception of male and female pheromones and their effects on cognitive processes, the effects of physical attractiveness on smell and perception, and from the perception of fear from body odour.

The universal nature of emotional expression in different species strongly suggests the shared evolution and the fundamental nature of affect. Affect is clearly primary to language in phylogeny. Affect comes before our evolved language and our present form of thinking. Many studies have shown that the contribution of affect to signal recognition and processing has been underestimated. Despite agreement that the affect-cognition question is important to research in non-verbal behavior, there are still many questions that current data do not answer.

About the Author:

Karl Grammer (born 1950) received his Masters Degree in 1979 in Biology at the University of Munich and the Research Institute for Human Ethology, Max-Planck-Society, under the direction of I.Eibl-Eibesfeldt. His Masters Thesis was: Helping and supporting behavior in preschool children. He received his PhD in Biology in 1982 at the University of Munich and the Research Institute for Human Ethology, Max-Planck-Society. His Dissertation was: Competition and Cooperation: intervention in conflict among preschool children. In 1983 he became an Assistant Professor at the Research Institute for Human Ethology, Max-Planck-Society. In 1990 Habilitation at the University of Vienna on social manipulation and communication, and in 1991 he became the Scientific Director (together with Prof.Dr.I.Eibl-Eibesfeldt) of the Ludwig-Boltzmann-Institute for Urban Ethology in Vienna. In 1992 Dr. Grammer was elected as Secretary of the International Society for Human ethology. In 2000 he was appointed Professor by the University of Vienna . In 2002 he received the Zdenek-Klein Award for his integrative scientifc work and in 2003 the FWFF prize for technical and scientific innovation. Currently he is working on communication research and non-verbal behavior simulation.

Prof. Dr. Karl Grammer
Ludwig-Boltzmann-Institute for Urban Ethology
at the Institute for Anthropology/ University of Vienna
Althanstrasse 14
A-1090 Vienna/Austria
email: karl.grammer@univie.ac.at

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