BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Beatles' George Harrison wondered in his
famous love song about the "something" that "attracts me like no
A University at Buffalo expert explains that that "something" is
actually several physical elements that -- if they occur in a
certain order, at the right time and in the right place -- can
result in true love.
"There are several types of chemistry required in romantic
relationships," according to Mark B. Kristal, professor of
psychology in the UB College of Arts and Sciences. "It seems like a
variety of different neurochemical processes and external stimuli
have to click in the right complex and the right sequence for
someone to fall in love."
First, there's smell, made up of learned or cultural
preferences, such as the smell of a dozen long-stemmed red
"Smell forms part of the framework that conforms to cultural
attractiveness standards; for example, smelling like a strawberry
instead of mildew," he says.
Next, there are pheromones, which are more mysterious to us
"Pheromones are unlearned, and perhaps unsmellable, signals that
enter the brain through the olfactory system. They can function in
sex, alarm, territoriality, aggression, and fear," Kristal said,
adding that while sex attractant pheromones may explain changes in
libido, they don't explain why we choose a specific person for a
"In humans, specific mates are more probably chosen on the basis
of other sensory cues: visual, regular olfactory, auditory and
tactile cues," Kristal notes. And these cues, especially smell,
strengthen with time.
"After a certain amount of bonding, specific mates may be more
recognizable to each other by smells rather than by pheromones.
Studies show that people can recognize unwashed t-shirts belonging
to their mates by the smell."
Then there is the brain, which produces its own substances that
are involved in bonding.
"Two related brain peptides, vasopressin and oxytocin, have been
shown to be involved in both the permanent or long-term social
bonding that underlies mating," Kristal says. "The neurotransmitter
dopamine, in a part of the brain called the VTA, is certainly
involved in the rewarding properties of love and sex."
But aphrodisiacs -- foods, drugs and other substances that claim
to increase sexual interest -- are a "myth," according to Kristal,
who advises that it would be better to "smell good and look
successful" in order to attract a potential mate this Valentine's
And keep handy a copy of the "Something" CD, just in case.
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