Sunday, January 11, 2009

Smelling cheating, the amazing world of pheromones

So I was reading this article on the National Geographic website: Ants Smell Cheaters and Assault Them. It's always fascinating to read such articles.
The idea is quite simple, we all know that in an ants' community only the queen reproduces and in our minds the ants just obey, some talk about the hormonal castration ability that the queen has over the workers. But in fact, workers can reproduce, not the full kind of reproduction but a different, less efficient one called parthenogenesis, which, in a nutshell, means that their eggs will reproduce clones of the mother. That is not good in general and therefore it is only restricted to the extreme case when the queen dies with no one next in line.
It is in the community's interest to just have a queen that produces the good eggs and the workers that... um... work. But even with ants there is always the I that sometimes prevails over the us, and some workers try to cheat and to lay eggs.
So what happens then? The others just smell it. The special smells that ants detect in these cases is called pheromones they are not normal smells, they are not identified as such. For as far as fellow workers are concerned, this worker is trying to cheat and we must stop her... A hate crime by all means because there is no proof to the treason of the ant except for the pheromone. And when the researchers inserted this pheromone in innocent ants the others will attack them.
Now if you read the article you would notice the author of the paper makes conclusions about the potential role of pheromones on humans. Because there are studies that say that we still have receptors to pheromones in our bodies(the previous link is only one of a million). But of course, out of objectivity concern, the authors of the article quote someone that was not part of the research saying that we cannot jump into conclusions when it comes to human pheromones... And it's true, I don't want to give anyone the excuse to go and kill someone saying: my pheromone receptors informed me that he planed to kill me! Science doesn't need anymore abusive manipulators.
But it's quite intriguing, I mean smelling fear, smelling desire, feeling the chemistry, feeling that the partner is hiding something, alarming first impressions... all of these details on which tomorrow always proves you right! It's scary I tell you and the most rational and scientific way to explain it would be a combination of:
  1. Prejudice: We always like to judge people in order to make our lives much easier

  2. Stubbornness: If you see someone that has left a bad first impression you would always try to prove that person is bad

  3. Something biological (maybe pheromones, why not?): I mean sometimes it is just beyond you as rational as you may try to be, you always come to the conclusion that the people that left a bad first impression are not good for you, even if for a while you are totally convinced that your first impression was wrong and you try to build your relationship with that person in a perfectly friendly way.

I don't know, that's what I think

1 comment:

NOMAD said...

in the real life, pheromones do have an influence, (I made a post once, I can't find it at the moment)

on the web, the written words, the way they are used, it's funny how we can guess many things only with them