January 15, 2009

Cologne and Self-Fulfilling Prophesies

author_brad By Bradley Wright

I go to the gym at my town’s community center, and I can always tell when a high school boy has used the locker room recently—it smells strongly of Axe or Lynx body sprays. In a triumph of marketing, Unilever has convinced a whole generation of young men who think that if they douse themselves with the right spray, beautiful women will throw themselves at them. Don’t believe this is true? Well, here’s documentary evidence provided in an Axe commercial.

As a middle-aged person, I just roll my eyes at anything I don’t understand about young people. (“Kids these days”, said in a cranky voice). Some scientists, however, have taken the time to figure out if in fact these man-sprays actually work, and what they have found wonderfully illustrates the sociological concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This study gave a group of young men cans of aerosol spray to use. Half the respondents had the real stuff—that smells so good—and the other half had a spray that didn’t really have anything in it. The researchers then gave the young men a series of psychological tests which were filmed. These films were then shown to young women, and the women were asked to rate the attractiveness of the male respondents. Lo and behold, the men who had sprayed themselves with the real body spray were deemed more attractive.

How did this work? The women viewers could not smell the men, yet they were more attracted to the men who smelled differently. The researchers concluded that the body spray had no direct effect on the women viewers, rather the sprays altered moods of the men who wore them. Smelling a certain way apparently made the men feel more confident, and so they acted differently, more confidently, than those who did not get the good-smelling sprays. The women viewers noticed this more confident manner and found it attractive.

The researchers then showed photographs of the male respondents to group of women, and the women did not find the good-smelling guys to be more physically attractive. It was the good-smelling guys’ behavior, not their physical appearance or scent that attracted women. The right smell made the guys act more confidently, so, somewhat counterintuitively, the secret may not be whether a woman thinks a man smells good, but rather whether a man thinks he smells good.

This effect of body-spray—making a man more attractive because he thinks he is more attractive—represents a self-fulfilling prophesy. This concept has a long history and many uses, but here it refers to the effect of a changed self-identity. A change in the situation (i.e., body spray) changes a man’s attitudes about himself (more confidence) which in turn changes how others react to him (attraction).

Self-fulfilling prophesies show up in a remarkably wide range of social behaviors. If a basketball player thinks she’s going to miss a free throw, she probably will. If a child comes to believe that they are a bad kid, they’ll act that out. If a student thinks they are smart and hard working, they will do better in school.

clip_image002In fact, I wonder if the logic of the study described above applies to all fashions. Wearing the right style at the right style at the right time might actually make us more attractive due to feeling better about ourselves. (Of course, some styles are inherently attractive, regardless of social definition. They always look great—for example, the baby blue tuxedo I wore to high school prom).

In this essay, I’ve focused on the effects of our self-image on our behavior, but there’s an equally rich story to be told about how society affects our self-image. Gender and racial stereotypes affect the self-images of groups of people. Parents, teachers, and friends constantly affect how we see ourselves. Advertising and all manner of media alter our self-perceptions. In the end, this concept, of a self-fulfilling prophesy, helps us to understand both who we are and what we do and how both are influenced by the society that we live in.

As you go through today, think about how you’re social interactions change how you see yourself, and how this in turn changes how you act and how others respond to you. Also, don’t forget to douse yourself with something that you think smells good.


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I agree with sff prophercy thesis. i think good perfum makes an amazing effect. (Im thinking about women) But if i think about it scent that ususally atrracts me is attached to good looking and really feminine person. In other hand, frequently first sign of a person im my area is the scent in fact...

Looks more like an artifact of multiple comparisons. Check out the Social Science Statistics Blog post on this study: http://www.iq.harvard.edu/blog/sss/archives/2009/01/multiple_compar.shtml

The women didn't rate the men more confident, nor did they they rate the men more attractive when looking at photographs or watching videos with sound, only if they watched the video without sound. So the AXE effect holds, only if you keep your mouth shut?

I think you are spot on the money here...i'm sure it does not only apply to mens deoderant!

I think this is really interesting, especially the part where just the video footage of the guys made them more attractive because they are more confident. I believe having confidence can do a lot with your personal image. A friend once said that even when he had a huge hair dye mistake, he still rocked the hair and had confidence and even though his hair looked awful, he got many compliments on it.

I also can relate and agree with this feeling of confidence when I smell good. I also think that this is very intresting in the fact that women saw guys as more attractive if they wore AXE. The reason that they did was because it was a confidence booster. So I know that when I put on purfume I usually can't smell it after about an hour because either it wares off or I get used to it. After hours of wearing it, people have still complemented me about how I smell. So, if men cannot smell the AXE anymore after smelling it for about an hour does that make him less sexy/confident?

i would totally agree with this guy in my eyes it all about what you think about yourself and people tend to notice that.

I completely agree. Confidence is very attractive and can only be achieved when one feels good about themself. I am curious as to what happens when the scent goes away though?...because it wasn't the women's feedback that boosted the confidence, it was the smell and the smell alone.

I agree with the thought that smelling good can raise your self esteem. When a person feels good about themselves it reflects and attracts other people. Why is it then if all it takes is to smell good to make a person more confident that we have so many people with low self esteem and confidence? I think that smelling good can temporarily make a person feel good but once the sent is gone their confidence disappears too. Axe gives men false hope that women will be attracted to them if they wear their product, when really what women are attracted to is the mans confidence.

I am a 19 year old male and i totally agree with what you getting at. I myself don't use any type of sprays, but i do wear cologne. smelling good gives confidence to guys so if you cant afford cologne get some axe!

I agree that a cologne or a body spray can give more confidence to young men. I think a combination of fashion and they way they smell give the young man the confidence and swagger around girls. Smelling good is one part of this " self-fulfilling prophecy" but other factors are also involved

I believe that wearing axe cologne/body spray does have an effect on the demeanor of a young male. It is very interesting how the ones wearing axe had more of a confident look, which we all know most female find attractive. In all reality the axe has no effect itself on influencing women but the "axe effect" is actually a confidence booster for the user.

I very much appreciate jet's reality check. I think commenters chose to believe the post and ignore jet's comment because the former reaffirmed something they already believed.

i would have to agree with this blog. What matters in life is what you think about yourself and how you represent yourself. when something such as a spray gives a guy more confidence it tends to show. other people notice when you walk around with your held high. Although many people always worry about what other people think about them when it really comes down to if you have high confidence in yourself there is no need to worry about what others think.

I find it funny how people buy things because they think it will make them happy. The only reason we think this is because of commercials or by word of mouth. For the most part, men like to buy and wear Axe products because they think women will throw themselves at them... because that's what happens in the commercials.
But people don't realize when they buy a product that was advertised on TV, they are in some way paying for the advertisement itself. This is why it is more expensive. It doesn't cost more because it smells better or will cause more women to like them, it's the preconceived notion.
I'm sure any other fragrance smells just as good, but people don't like to buy it because it doesn't have a "name" brand on it.
I think it would be interesting to see a study done wear some men wear a different fragrance but it is in an Axe container and some men wear the Axe fragrance but in a "off- brand" container.

I would have to disagree with this article. Just because you put on a good smelling spray doesn't mean your going to have girls all over you. I do think that it may boost your confidence up a little to go to talk to those girls, but it doesn't mean you will get some just because you buy there product. Why do people think that this will make them more attractive?

I definitely agree with this post. I think that confidence is an attractive trait and that when people feel more confident, they are found to be more attractive among their peers, as well. For example, when your hair looks particularly good or when you're wearing your favorite outfit and you behave like you know that you look great, your confidence is easily detected. Other people can sense that and they think that you look good, too.

Confidence is something that makes someone feel powerful, it definitely makes someone more attractive when they have confidence. It shows that they know who they are, and that they don't care about what anyone thinks about them because they are happy for who they are. Therefore that makes people look towards them more. If show that your confident "proud" of who you are people will notice, and think that you are gorgeous inside and out! I totally agree with this post!

i belive that Axe commercials do in fact lead some men to believe that using that product results in picking up girls with minimal effort, and the fact that such men are conditioned by the commercials to believe this, is what creates that sudden boost of confidence, which in turn catches the attention of women. But i dont think Axe is the only product that can have this effect, i would find it interesting to know what the results would be if the same experiment was conducted adding other name brand colognes. would there be a slight or huge difference in confidence and thus attention from women? or would it be the same? so i think this is a good example for a self fufilling prophecy. but i also think women are also conditioned by these commercials to believe that men who wear axe (or any other cologne for that matter) may be found more attractive than men who dont.

I'm still wavering on this post. When I use a perfume or body spray I can't smell it on myself within a half hour. The scent usually goes away. I had never thought that smelling good could make someone more confident, especially for someone like myself who can't even smell it on them. This definitely helped me to understand self-fulfilling prophecies better, though. If a student says "I am going to do well on this test", might alter his/her actions so that the prediction is fulfilled. So, if a guy uses Axe body spray and says "I smell good so I feel good" this might alter their actions to becoming more confident in themselves which in turn will attract more women; and "The Axe Effect" becomes a reality.

Wright makes a great point in his blog. By saying that women are not necessarily attracted to the smell of the cologne, but rather the confidence that the smell brings to young men, is something I can strongly agree with. Being a woman, I am personally attracted to guys that have confidence within themselves and carry it throughout their personal image as well, which woman isn’t? The study Wright discussed in his blog proved this point exactly. Yet, this study can be vice versa for young women too. And a smell is not the only thing that can conclude this result. Clothing, accessories, and other materials, can also alter the way a person carries themselves. I guarantee if the same type of study was conducted on women, half wearing name brand clothing and the other half wearing no name brand clothing, a higher confidence level would be found in the young women wearing name brand clothes just like found in young men wearing good smelling cologne. I believe the study would conclude this way because women take great pride in their appearance and when wearing an outfit they know is “fashionable,” can lead them to acting more confident within themselves, which can most often shine through. It is sad to say that our society is so shallowly built on materialistic things we possess, yet these things have such an impact on altering the way we carry our self-image, supporting the concept of self-fulfilling prophesy.

This article was extremely interesting because it revealed a concept that is highly visible and common in modern society. It is understandable that smelling good isn’t necessarily what attracts others to you; instead it is the way you behave as a result of smelling good that makes you attractive to others. I find this idea to be fascinating because it is something we all participate in during our daily lives and I can strongly relate to this concept.
There are numerous things in life that make us feel more confident and good about ourselves. We paint our nails, toenails, lips and eyebrows with makeup to hide imperfections and appear more glamorous. We wear skin-tight jeans to show off our curvaceous, yet slim figure. We wear low-cut tops to reveal our busty upper body. We sport tight t-shirts to show off our muscular biceps. We cut, straighten, curl, crimp, dye, highlight and color our hair. Why do we go to such great lengths to make ourselves “attractive”? The emotion we feel while getting dolled up to go to a party gives us self-assurance and makes us feel beautiful simply because we tried to make ourselves that way. Feeling attractive, regardless of whether or not others believe we are, boosts our confidence level and makes us feel more comfortable with our appearances and ourselves. Though we may not necessarily look more attractive or beautiful after applying layers of makeup or damaging our hair using a straightening iron, we feel more attractive and beautiful. This concept illustrates the relationship between our self-image on our behavior and the way we act. There is also a close relationship between the world around us and the way we conduct ourselves. Society, including people and industry, shapes how we view ourselves and how others view us. Advertising and media are only some of the many aspects of society that greatly influence our self-image and our actions.

I depends on the situation. I agree when I wear cologne I feel better about myself and more confident. I also think that the media plays a very important role. When saw the first axe commercial, I was interested. They basically used sex as a way to convey axe to the public. When I bought the product I thought it was just ok smelling but it was more of wearing a brand name for me.

That's a good example of self-fulfilling prophecy. We're learning about that in our Sociology class only how it effects students in the classroom. I never really thought of it in terms about feeling good about ourselves. This was really interesting and very true.

I found your article very interesting and very true. How the men who smelled good acted more confident and the women were more attracted to them. When I dress up in a cute outfit, I act more confident, just like them. Also when talking to guys many had mentioned that they like a confident girl. All my friends who are confident have attracted more men as well. I think this is a very good example of self-fulfilled prophecy.

You had excellent points on how confidence in the way one looks, or in this case smells, can lead to a boost in confidence that in turn makes a person more attractive, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think this contributes to why people spend so much time and money on their appearance. If they feel confident in the way they look, they will act more confident and make themselves more attractive to others more because of the confident air than their physical appearance.

I agree with these points made about self-fulfilling prophecies. Confidence plays a key role in how a person feels and ultimately reflects on how they interact with others as well.

Great article!

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