Perfume advertising tells us nothing about the odor quality of the perfumes. Instead the market feeds us with images of either stereotypically masculine men or stereotypically feminine women, and thus tries to sell us an identity rather than a fragrance. This is despite the fact that the odor of many perfumes framed for either men or women rather are perceived as fairly similar.

When heterosexual people between the ages of 20 and 30 were asked to choose perfumes solely on the basis of the scent, and without knowing if the perfumes had been categorized as feminine or masculine, they tended to choose the same scents, both for themselves and for their potential partners. These results come from a dissertation in psychology in which Anna Lindqvist has examined how perfumes are perceived when the gender categorizations are unknown.

Anna Lindqvist
Anna Lindqvist, PhD in Psychology

“Since there is an idea that fragrances can enhance our femininity or masculinity, and thus attract a partner of the opposite sex, this is an exciting result,” says Anna Lindqvist at the Department of Psychology, Stockholm University. 

Unisex perfumes most popular

The participants were also asked to judge how feminine and masculine they perceived the perfumes in the experiments.

“The participants preferred the perfumes that they perceived as neither particularly feminine nor masculine. And when the participants were asked to gender categorize the perfumes themselves, they choose a unisex label for these fragrances,” says Anna Lindqvist.

The average perfume user’s experience of the scents thus seems to differ from how the perfumes are marketed, and when the commercial gender categorization is unknown, both male and female participants tended to choose the same perfumes.

For further information,
Anna Lindqvist, PhD in Psychology, Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, phone +46(0)707 765 388, email