Sniffing out the science behind the ‘Lynx effect’

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Deodorant

The famous ‘Lynx effect’ may not be mere marketing according to researchers looking into the psychology of deodorant and fragrance products.

A research team led by Dr Craig Roberts from the University of Liverpool, UK, and including a Unilever scientist from the Port Sunlight centre in Merseyside, suggest the disarming effect the product is supposed to have on women may have a scientific basis.

According to the advertising campaign, applying Lynx products (one of Unilever’s leading brands) will have females in the vicinity running blindly to the source, unable to resist.

Whilst results from Dr Roberts’ study may not be quite as dramatic as the adverts, they do suggest that fragrance or deodorant products may affect the perceived attractiveness of the wearer.

‘Lynx effect’ just without the smell

The research suggests that the effect may not rely on the sense of smell of those around the individual. Rather, the secret seems to lie in the increased confidence that the product gives to the wearer, who will then appear more attractive to others.

The study involved 35 heterosexual male volunteers, half of whom were assigned a commercially available deodorant product. The other half of the study group were assigned the same product but without the active fragrance and deodorant ingredients.

Questionnaires were used to estimate the men’s self confidence and self-perceived attractiveness before any product had been applied, 15 minutes after the first product application and then after 48 hours of use during which the volunteers substituted the test deodorant for their normal and did not wash.

After two days the volunteers recorded a short video introduction which was then rated for attractiveness and confidence by a panel of female participants. In this way the panellists never smell the volunteers and attractiveness is judged solely on appearance.

More confident – more attractive

According to the study, over the 48 hour period men who received the placebo product had lower confidence and self-perceived attractiveness scores than those who used the active deodorant.

This was then reflected in the ratings given by the female volunteers of the videos. Men using the placebo product scored worse than those using the active deodorant; the panel’s ratings were affected by the reduced confidence of the placebo group.

“The main change over the two days in self confidence was a downward effect in the placebo group, rather than an upward effect of the group allocated the full deodorant. So this suggests that the difference mainly arose because men in the placebo group were concerned they smelled bad,”​ Roberts told CosmeticsDesign.com.

In addition, the negative effect of the placebo product was more profound when the effect of the individual’s physical features was removed.

“The attractiveness ratings will be influenced by both the physical features of the men (hair/eye colour etc) and the behavioural features (body language). The deodorant clearly cannot affect the first, but can have effects on the second. When we control for the physical features, the behavioural differences become more evident”​ he explained.

By controlling for physical attractiveness ratings in the photos, the researchers were able to tease apart the effect of body language on women’s fragrance compared with other physical features the deodorant cannot affect.

More research is needed to investigate the psychology of fragrance use on the wearer and those who interact with him or her, but for Roberts this is the ‘Lynx effect’ demonstrated for the first time.

Related topics: Formulation & Science

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