Wedekind (1995)

IB Psychology: Wedekind (1995)

Wedekind et al (1995) carried out a study to test the role of MHC - a set of genes responsible for our immune system - on mate selection. This study can be used in the biological approach for the following content:Research methods used in the biological approach.Evolutionary explanations of behaviour.PheromonesIt can also be used in the human relationships unit to discuss biological origins of human relationships.


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Comments 13

Nathan Tomochko 31 October 2017 - 02:54

Hi John, are we sure that we can safely use this study for the pheromones topic? I would like to as it can be applied to other areas of the syllabus and the students always like this study. Since MHC is not a pheromone could you, or someone else, please explain how it might be applied to a pheromone question. Many thanks!

John Crane 31 October 2017 - 06:06

Dear Nathan, there are no human pheromones that have been identified - so this essay by nature cannot use research that discusses actual human pheromones. So, the MHC is perhaps the best study to use for this learning objective. It is close, but does not really fit the definition of a pheromone - and that is what students should apparently discuss in the essay.

Nathan Tomochko 1 November 2017 - 01:32

Great, thanks for this John.

Sarah Lundy 7 November 2017 - 10:44

Following on from the above comments. Is it enough that this study shows evidence of the existence of pheromones in humans? So the fact that the female participants preferred the smell of the t-shirts of males with compatible MHC, is evidence that the smell is carrying the pheromone?
Alternatively, is there an animal study we can use?

John Crane 7 November 2017 - 13:15

Dear Sarah - the problem is with the definition of a pheromone. By its current definition, we don't have any. This is close, but it is not a pheromone. Although my understanding of biochemistry does not help me to understand why not. This article may be helpful. scientificamerican.com / Of course, MHC is the closest that we have, but a discussion as to why it does not act as a pheromone in humans could be a good discussion.

John Crane 7 November 2017 - 13:19

Ah - found it. The reason why is that there is no clear evidence that the odor actually influences behaviour. Although the women rank it as "more pleasant", that does not give evidence that women actually choose to have sexual relations with people who have this MHC. Humans also have no functional vomeronasal organ, so it is not clear how we actually detect these pheromones.

Sarah Lundy 8 November 2017 - 14:41

Great, thanks John!

Sarah Lundy 9 November 2017 - 15:36

Hi John,
When delivering this topic could we say that the Wedekind shows (inconclusive) evidence of a pheromone in humans because the sweaty tshirts were able to communicate to the women which men were MHC-dissimilar mates. I agree that the study doesn't actually show a behavioural response in humans. But I came across this study: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov /
that shows some evidence that the MHC influences mate choice in some human populations (European-American but not African). And therefore a behavioural response to MHC.
So, students could criticise the lack of evidence of a behavioural response in Wedekind's study but argue that other research suggests a preference for MHC-dissimilar mates.
I find it odd that pheromones is on the psychology syllabus considering the lack of evidence that human pheromones exist.

John Crane 10 November 2017 - 05:09

Dear Sarah - I also find it odd that pheromones has to be part of this curriculum. The study you found is interesting - but only done on a total of 60 couples. I think the problem with all of the research is the question of the definition of "pheromones" in humans. MHC may be "the closest we get", but it the research is contradictory, as mentioned in the study you sent. I guess this is what students are supposed to write about.

Sarah Lundy 11 November 2017 - 07:32

I agree. In planning this section that's the discussion angle we will take with the class. Thanks again!

Jane Sidwell 15 January 2018 - 19:16

I noticed that the study notes you have here are slightly changed from the same study published in previous materials, that I have been using for 4 years. Did you remove parts that are not longer supported by research? They are small by factual changes. thanks.....

John Crane 16 January 2018 - 05:14

Dear Jane,

I continue to go through all of the material that was on the site for the old curriculum. In some cases I am simplifying details and in some I am going back and changing small details that should not have an impact on understanding of the study, but which are more accurate.

Jane Sidwell 18 January 2018 - 14:33

Thanks John.


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