TIME Research

What Pheromones Really Reveal About Your Love Life

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In search of the lingua franca of odor

Beauty may not be in the eye of the beholder after all.

It may actually lie just south, in the nose. At least that’s what the latest research on pheromones, substances that social animals secrete to communicate with and attract other members of their species, suggests. Moths, pigs, goldfish, and even we, as social animals, have them. But exactly what role do these scents play in sexual attraction between people?

“There are millions of hits on websites that are trying to sell—mostly to men—the sex attractant,” says Charles Wysocki, a scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. “Wear this and you’ll score tonight.” The promise: with the spritz of a mate-attracting mist, the sniffer would fall helplessly, chemically, scientifically under the smell spell of pheromone-emitting you.

Sounds good, but scientists have yet to conclusively identify a single known human pheromone, let alone bottle the stuff, although they have been chasing some fascinating leads. We now know, for example, that pheromones do help you smell someone else’s gender, and there’s some preliminary evidence that pheromones might be a potential X factor for attraction and fertility. According to one study, in which 18 professional lap dancers recorded their menstrual cycles, work shifts and tip earnings for two months, researchers found that during the phase when the women were most fertile, right before ovulation, dancers earned about $335 per shift, compared to $260 during other parts of their cycle. When they were menstruating, they only earned about $185 per shift. Interestingly, dancers who took birth control pills, which contain hormones that prevent ovulation, didn’t experience this fertile peak in tips.

Of course, many other explanations for the spike in sexual attractiveness are possible, but the data on the potential link between fertility and pheromones is getting hard to ignore. Another study published in Psychological Science found that when men smelled T-shirts worn by women who were close to ovulation, they displayed higher levels of testosterone than when they sniffed shirts from women further away from ovulation or T-shirts with a control scent.

Other research suggests that pheromones may regulate people’s moods, and that may explain the link—albeit more indirect—to sexual attraction. Wysocki’s lab collected underarm secretions from men and put them on the upper lips of women, who reported feeling less tense and more relaxed when they smelled the sweat than when they smelled a placebo.

Read more: Is Perfume Bad For Me?

What element of that sweat, or of any scent we emit that’s picked up by others, is driving the attraction is still unclear. Experts believe it may likely be a bunch of them. People also seem to have one-of-a-kind odor prints, or signature smells that we can’t help but produce uniquely. That’s thanks to something called a major histocompatibility complex (MHC), a collection of proteins that regulate the immune system—and maybe even mate choice, say some scientists. According to their theory, you naturally sniff out a mate whose immune system is optimally different from your own, which would make the immune system of your offspring more diverse, robust and better positioned to fend off more pathogens.

“The evidence is strong that there’s something in the major MHC genes that influences mate choice,” Wysocki says. In one study also involving well-worn T-shirts, women sniffed shirts worn by men and picked the one they’d most prefer to socialize with. They tended to select shirts from men with MHC genes that differed from their own. Women on birth control pills, however, show the opposite effect and are drawn to MHCs similar to theirs, possibly because the pill puts the body into a hormonal state similar to pregnancy, when you’d want safe, supportive and similar relatives around. Wysocki believes that birth control pills might be messing with the mating game. “Some have argued that for women who are on the birth control pill, they’re not getting the right olfactory information about their potential mate,” he says.

“We know that hormones affect the sense of smell especially in women,” Wysocki says. But he’s reluctant to say anything more about what role, if any they play in attraction, since results from studies so far aren’t conclusive, and the topic is controversial and tough to investigate well. “That’s about as far as I can say; the underlying mechanism has not yet been established.”

Part of the challenge comes from the fact that people perceive smells in different ways; one of Wysocki’s studies determined that no two people experience the olfactory world in exactly the same way. Add in all of the other complexities of attraction, and it’s no surprise we haven’t found an eau d’amour quite yet. That bottle may be many, many Valentine’s Days away.

Read next: The Truth About Aphrodisiacs

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TIME Careers & Workplace

7 Scientifically Proven Ways to Achieve Better Success in Life

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Hard work alone won't get you there

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This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

Success is a subjective notion, if there ever was one. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s assume the higher you are on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the better you’re doing. In case you don’t remember the levels from Psych 101, essentially, people can’t be their best possible selves (self-actualization) until lower-level needs are met first. In other words, you can’t be an ideal version of yourself if you don’t have enough food and money to pay the bills, or enough love and esteem to feel good about your value as a human being. So, what can you do to move yourself up the pyramid?

Check out the findings from several studies, which shine a light on what it takes to achieve more in life.

Increase your confidence by taking action.

Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of The Confidence Code, wrote a stellar article for The Atlantic on this subject. Highlighting scads of studies that have found that a wide confidence gap exists between the sexes, they point out that success is just as dependent on confidence as it is on competence. Their conclusion? Low confidence results in inaction. “[T]aking action bolsters one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed,” they write. “So confidence accumulates–through hard work, through success, and even through failure.”

Broaden your definition of authenticity.

Authenticity is a much sought-after leadership trait, with the prevailing idea being that the best leaders are those who self-disclose, are true to themselves, and who make decisions based on their values. Yet in a recent Harvard Business Review article titled “The Authenticity Paradox,” Insead professor Herminia Ibarra discusses interesting research on the subject and tells the cautionary tale of a newly promoted general manager who admitted to subordinates that she felt scared in her expanded role, asking them to help her succeed. “Her candor backfired,” Ibarra writes. “She lost credibility with people who wanted and needed a confident leader to take charge.” So know this: Play-acting to emulate the qualities of successful leaders doesn’t make you a fake. It merely means you’re a work in progress.

Improve your social skills.

According to research conducted by University of California Santa Barbara economist Catherine Weinberger, the most successful business people excel in both cognitive ability and social skills, something that hasn’t always been true. She crunched data linking adolescent skills in 1972 and 1992 with adult outcomes, and found that in 1980, having both skills didn’t correlate with better success, whereas today the combination does. “The people who are both smart and socially adept earn more in today’s work force than similarly endowed workers in 1980,” she says.

Train yourself to delay gratification.

The classic Marshmallow Experiment of 1972 involved placing a marshmallow in front of a young child, with the promise of a second marshmallow if he or she could refrain from eating the squishy blob while a researcher stepped out of the room for 15 minutes. Follow-up studies over the next 40 years found that the children who were able to resist the temptation to eat the marshmallow grew up to be people with better social skills, higher test scores, and lower incidence of substance abuse. They also turned out to be less obese and better able to deal with stress. But how to improve your ability to delay things like eating junk food when healthy alternatives aren’t available, or to remain on the treadmill when you’d rather just stop?

Writer James Clear suggests starting small, choosing one thing to improve incrementally every day, and committing to not pushing off things that take less than two minutes to do, such as washing the dishes after a meal or eating a piece of fruit to work toward the goal of eating healthier. Committing to doing something every single day works too. “Top performers in every field–athletes, musicians, CEOs, artists–they are all more consistent than their peers,” he writes. “They show up and deliver day after day while everyone else gets bogged down with the urgencies of daily life and fights a constant battle between procrastination and motivation.”

Demonstrate passion and perseverance for long-term goals.

Psychologist Angela Duckworth has spent years studying kids and adults, and found that one characteristic is a significant predictor of success: grit. “Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality,” she said in a TED talk on the subject. “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Embrace a “growth mindset.”

According to research conducted by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, how people view their personality affects their capacity for happiness and success. Those with a “fixed mindset” believe things like character, intelligence, and creativity are unchangeable, and avoiding failure is a way of proving skill and smarts. People with a “growth mindset,” however, see failure as a way to grow and therefore embrace challenges, persevere against setbacks, learn from criticism, and reach higher levels of achievement. “Do people with this mindset believe that anyone can be anything, that anyone with proper motivation or education can become Einstein or Beethoven? No, but they believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training,” she writes.

Invest in your relationships.

After following the lives of 268 Harvard undergraduate males from the classes of 1938 to 1940 for decades, psychiatrist George Vaillant concluded something you probably already know: Love is the key to happiness. Even if a man succeeded in work, amassed piles of money, and experienced good health, without loving relationships he wouldn’t be happy, Vaillant found. The longitudinal study showed happiness depends on two things: “One is love,” he wrote. “The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”

TIME sexuality

Fifty Shades of Grey Gets Women Into Porn, Research Says

After reading the best-selling book, some women begin using pornography for the first time

E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey is introducing more women to porn — at least according to a narrow study conducted at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

Researcher Diana Parry interviewed 28 women in their 20s to 50s about their pornography habits. She discovered that women in the group increased their consumption of sexually explicit content after reading the book.

“So many of the women [we interviewed] were hopping in for the first time to pornography or sexually explicit material that was written by women for women,” Parry told Salon in an interview.

“I find it’s motivating women. It is exposing them to a genre of material that they either didn’t know existed or they didn’t know that they liked,” the professor said.

Parry employed a broad definition of porn, using a catchall label of “sexually explicit material” to reduce stigma surrounding erotica, porn websites and other sexual entertainment.

“But I think we need a cautionary note around it, because while they open up opportunities and provide women with unprecedented access to new genres or ways of thinking about their sexuality, at the same time, many of the scripts that are reproduced are really patriarchal scripts around women’s sexuality.”

[Salon]

TIME Smoking

Smoking May Be More Dangerous Than Previously Thought, Study Says

A man smokes outside of a building on June 11, 2009 in New York.
Spencer Platt—Getty Images A man smokes outside of a building on June 11, 2009 in New York.

Kidney disease and fatal infections now linked to the nasty habit

Smoking may contribute to the deaths of an additional 60,00-120,000 Americans per year says a new study published by The New England Journal of Medicine.

From the years 2000 to 2011 researchers followed nearly a million people, including 89,000 current smokers, and concluded that smoking increased the risk of deaths from diseases not previously associated with the habit, according to the New York Times.

“The smoking epidemic is still ongoing, and there is a need to evaluate how smoking is hurting us as a society, to support clinicians and policy making in public health,” Brian D. Carter, head author of the study told the Times.

The study found that smokers were twice as likely to die from kidney failure, fatal infections and possibly even breast and prostate cancers in addition to the 21 diseases already linked to smoking.

Because it is unethical to direct people to start smoking for a study, the findings are observational and only prove a correlation, not causation. However, Carter has faith in the study because smoking is already known to create risk factors, such as a weakened immune system and artery disease, which contribute to the newly linked ailments.

Finally, the facts that heavier smokers were at a higher risk and that ex-smokers saw the dangers decrease over time added to Carter’s confidence in the study.

[New York Times]

TIME Research

Chronic-Fatigue Syndrome Is Real and Is Now Called Systemic-Exertion-Intolerance Disease

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Top medical advisory body publishes comprehensive report

Sufferers of chronic-fatigue syndrome have long complained about what they regard as a trivializing name for their condition. Now, they can claim two victories: it was renamed systemic-exertion-intolerance disease (SEID), and was proclaimed to be a real disease by a panel from the Institute of Medicine, an influential government advisory body.

The 15-member panel, which released a 235-page report Tuesday also offered new and simplified diagnostic criteria: profound fatigue, total exhaustion after even minor physical or mental exertion, unrefreshing sleep and “brain fog.”

The disease, afflicting anywhere from 860,000 to 2.5 million Americans, can leave sufferers incapacitated, incapable of attending school or going to work. The majority are undiagnosed because there is no test and sufferers battle a prevailing stigma that their ailment is primarily psychological.

[NPR]

TIME Research

Extremely Premature Babies Face Developmental Issues, Study Says

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A new study shows premature babies score lower on cognitive tests

Thanks to innovative technologies, babies born extremely premature have a much higher likelihood of survival now than in the past. However, they can be at a much greater risk for medical problems, and a new study suggests that being born too early can mean developmental problems later on.

For her PhD thesis, researcher and Lund University psychologist Johanna Månsson assessed around 400 extremely premature babies (born week 28 or earlier) and about 400 control babies that were born at full term. When the infants reached age 2.5, they underwent psychological tests, and Månsson discovered that the babies born prematurely had significantly worse scores for language comprehension, speech, motor skills and cognition. The premature babies were also more likely to have behavioral issues, and boys were overall more delayed than the girls.

Though there were distinct disparities between the children’s development, the premature infants still fell into score ranges that were classified as normal.

“Our findings encourage behavioral assessments during preschool years and emphasize the importance of considering multifactorial pathways of prediction when examining prematurity outcome,” Månsson writes in her report.

Månsson says the findings indicate that early interventions may be needed to ensure that extremely premature babies catch up developmentally.

TIME Research

Here’s Your Health Excuse to Take a Nap

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New study finds negative effects of a sleepless night can be undone by forty winks

Conventional wisdom used to be that you can never catch up on a lost night of sleep — but a new study adds weight to the emerging theory that the negative health effects of a sleepless night can actually be reversed by a good nap.

In a small study of 11 healthy men published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM), researchers found that even if the men got only two hours of sleep the night before, they could combat the hormonal havoc caused by poor sleep if they took a couple of brief naps.

To reach these results, the researchers had the men undergo two sleep sessions in a lab. In the first, the men only got two hours of sleep and then had their urine and saliva measured and analyzed for hormonal changes. In the second session, the men once again only got two hours of sleep, but this time they also took two 30-minute naps the following day. The men provided saliva and urine samples once again.

MORE: Here’s How Much Experts Think You Should Sleep Every Night

The study found that when men only slept for two hours, they had a 2.5 increase in norepinephrine, a hormone and neurotransmitter which responds to stress. That increase can up the body’s heart rate and blood pressure. The men also had low levels of the protein interleukin-6 which is critical for having a proper immune response. However, when the men were sleep-deprived but napped the following day, the researchers found there were no changes in either their protein or hormone levels.

According to the researchers, the findings suggest that taking a nap can restore out-of-whack hormone levels, and improve immune system health. But to avoid the sluggishness and medical problems that can come from from not getting enough shut eye, try to get the recommended amount of sleep every night. For adults, that’s 7 to 9 hours.

TIME Race

Minorities Face Significant Barriers to Home Ownership in the U.S., Report Says

'It's clear that the housing playing field remains strikingly unequal in this country'

Minorities continue to face significant barriers to home ownership in the U.S., according to a new report.

The report, released by online real estate database Zillow, shows a significant disparity in home ownership, property values and home loan approval rates between white and minority communities.

Read More: The Long, Tangled Roots of the Michael Brown Shooting

More than 25% of loan applications by black applicants in the U.S. are denied, compared with 10% of their white counterparts, the report found. Additionally, nearly three in four white Americans own their homes, compared to less than half of black and Hispanic Americans.

The value of homes owned by minorities also tended to be less stable. While prices in white neighborhoods have largely recovered from the economic downturn of 2008, home prices in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods remain well below peak levels.

“It’s clear that the housing playing field remains strikingly unequal in this country,” Zillow Chief Economist Stan Humphries said in a statement.

TIME Research

Energy Drinks May Drive Kids to Distraction

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A new study finds a link between consumption of energy drinks and hyperactivity and inattention

Middle schoolers who consume sweetened energy drinks are 66% more at risk for hyperactivity than other kids, according to a new study.

To assess the effect of a variety of beverages on middle schoolers, Yale School of Public Health researchers surveyed 1,649 students in 5th, 7th, and 8th grade about their beverage consumption and assessed their levels of hyperactivity and inattention.

“Despite considering numerous types of beverages in our analyses (eg, soda, fruit drinks), only energy drinks were associated with greater risk of hyperactivity/inattention,” the authors write in the study published in the journal Academic Pediatrics.

Unlike soda and juice, energy drinks often contain ingredients like guarana and taurine. The researchers say it could be the effect of these ingredients mixed with caffeine that causes problems.

“Energy drinks contain large amounts of caffeine, sugar and other ingredients that work synergistically with caffeine. Caffeine may be contributing to this association because the caffeine content of energy drinks is far greater on average than that of soda,” the authors write.

It’s important to note that the researchers could not determine that the energy drinks caused the hyperactivity and inattentiveness in the kids. The American Beverage Association has guidelines for energy drink companies that recommend against marketing their products to children and not selling in K-12 schools.

However, a January report from U.S. Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) shows most energy drink companies will market to young people under age 18, which the senators object to arguing there are safety concerns for teenagers as well.

“Our results support the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that parents should limit consumption of sweetened beverages and that children should not consume any energy drinks,” study author Jeannette Ickovics, director of CARE (Community Alliance for Research and Engagement) at the Yale School of Public Health said in a statement.

 

TIME Careers & Workplace

3 Science-Backed Ways to Remember Anything

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Our ability to memorize is taking a back seat to convenience, but there must be a balance between the two

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This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article below was originally published on The Muse.

In this age of smart phones, smart TVs, smart watches, smart glasses—the list is becoming endless—the only thing that seems to be getting duller may be our own brains.

Think of all the things we used to be forced to memorize, which have become relics of a quaint and incomprehensible past. Can you imagine actually memorizing someone’s phone number anymore? And we all know that person who can’t find his own friend’s house without staring at his GPS.

Our ability to memorize is taking a back seat to convenience, and if you’re like me, you’ve noticed the detrimental effects.

It’s not all bad—professor of psychology Daniel Wegner has argued that new technology and search engines may be becoming helpful “virtual extensions of our memory” (sort of like what you do when you leave it to your significant other to remember important dates).

But there are disturbing consequences. A 2013 poll from The Trending Machine National showed that Millennials age 18-34 are “significantly more likely than seniors ages 55 or older to forget what day it is (15% vs. 7%), where they put their keys (14% vs. 8%), forget to bring their lunch (9% vs. 3%), or even to take a bath or shower (6% vs. 2%).”

A balance between memory and convenience must be achieved, and it is clearly time to fight back.

Here are three tips based on new scientific research that you can use to gain back control over your memory.

1. Associate Your Memories With Physical Objects

Here’s a common memory problem that can cause you huge embarrassment at the office: forgetting someone’s name. Whether you’re meeting a new employee or on the phone with an important client, finding a way to remember names can be the difference between making a great impression or committing a serious social blunder.

Next time you meet someone, try to associate his or her name with a physical object, like signs, buildings, billboards—basically anything that you can see, feel, or touch counts. Essentially, you’re connecting something tangible with more abstract information such as names, numbers, dates, or appointments, making them easier to remember.

So, if you meet Pete, for example, and he’s got a pen in his pocket, think of him as Pen Pete. The possibilities for object association with abstract information is nearly infinite, so get creative. (In my case, the more ridiculous my associations are, the more memorable they become.)

You’re probably used to using this physical object strategy when trying to remember directions—“turn left at the big red sign.” This is a natural association that has worked beautifully for the entirety of human existence. So why not apply it elsewhere?

2. Don’t Just Memorize by Repetition—Also Pay Attention to Nuance

Everyone is familiar with the old saying, “practice makes perfect.” Interestingly, scientists have found that while repetitive practice can enhance your ability to remember the “big picture” outline of an object, it is detrimental to remembering the minute details.

New research suggests that, although developing “muscle memory” is an efficient method for memorizing information and learning new tasks in a general way, it will impair your ability to memorize and learn in a thorough manner.

Think about it: If you’ve ever memorized a presentation without actually understanding what you’re saying, you know what happens. You either can’t remember what you’re supposed to say, or you come off sounding like a robot. God forbid that you get interrupted and can’t find your place again.

When it comes to memorization, rote repetition is not enough. Repetition needs to be complemented by an understanding of the details to successfully present in a way that commands your audience.

So what should you do? Practice repetitively—but ensure that your repetition is supported by a solid foundation of understanding.

3. Doodle Like Crazy

This will seem counterintuitive to some of you, but my fellow doodlers have known this truth for a long time—doodling while ingesting non-visual information helps to increase memory retention rate significantly.

A 2009 study in Applied Cognitive Psychology demonstrated that people who were asked to doodle while listening to a list of names were able to recall 29% more of the names on average over non-doodlers. Doodles don’t even have to be related to the topic at hand. Per The Wall Street Journal, “Jesse Prinz draws people’s heads to help himself pay attention during lectures and the speeches at conferences he attends.”

How can doodling be this effective? Studies suggest that the act actually helps you to remain more focused and retain more information because it helps your brain retain a baseline of activity that may otherwise vanish during a dry lecture or speech. In other words, doodling keeps you awake and focused!

So next time you’re in a meeting, bust out a writing utensil and start drawing—though you may want to sit toward the back!

As we continue our journey into the 21st century, improving technology will only make the world even more convenient. We’ll have to remember less and even begin to rely heavily on automation in every facet of our lives.

While it would be easy to settle in to all of this convenience, aim to keep your memory sharp and your wits about you.

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