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Marketing sense: research shows that hormones influence sensory preferences

By Daniel Kosir |

How do you market your product or service? Chances are you consider things like age, social status, location, gender; the list goes on and on. But what about marketing according to biological predispositions?

It may sound far-fetched, but research in the field of neurology is becoming increasingly relevant to marketers.

A recent study conducted by DervalResearch, for example, has identified a connection between hormones and texture preferences in individuals.

DervalResearch, a scientific market research company helmed by Professor Diana Derval, found that a woman's hormonal makeup drives her tastes in fabrics and textures, with "estrogen-driven" women preferring fabrics such as wool, fur, leather or silk and "testosterone-driven" women preferring vegetal materials such as cotton and linen.

The findings came from an extensive study conducted between April 2007 and February 2011, which measured the preferences of 3,500 individuals from 25 different countries. The subjects included men and women of various ethnicities from all walks of life, who were measured for their individual sensitivity to touch and interviewed about which fabrics they preferred and which they found irritating to touch.

The research falls under the field of behavioural neuroendocrinology, which studies the interactions between the nervous and endocrine (hormonal) systems and human behaviour. Derval is particularly interested in the effects of prenatal hormonal exposures, which appear to have a profound and lasting influence on basic preferences and reaction to stimuli.

Depending on traits such as gender, ethnicity and immune system, individuals have different perceptions of touch, pressure, pain, cold and vibrations.
"Touch is a vibration. We identified different tactile profiles based on people's perception of touch: non-vibrators, medium-vibrators, and super-vibrators," says Professor Derval. "The super-vibrators are six times more sensitive to touch than others and clearly prefer to wear cotton to silk or wool."

The research also found that hormonal influence holds true to men as well. Derval has discovered that on average men are more sensitive to synthetic fabrics than are women, and are thus more likely to react favourably to materials such as nylon.

Understanding the tactile preferences of consumers, says Derval, can be highly beneficial for a wide variety of industries, from retail to fashion and even consumer packaging. "This research will aid them in designing the right sensory mix for their target markets," she says.


This research is just one facet of the much larger field of "neuromarketing," which combines marketing research and practices with cutting-edge developments in neuroscience.

Beyond tactile preferences, Derval's research has also been concerned with hormonal influences on other senses including taste, smell, vision, hearing and proprioception (the ability to sense our own movement and position).

Being aware of such sensory preferences can help businesses more effectively predict the behaviour of consumers. "[Consumers'] preferences and behaviour are directly linked to their biological and sensory perceptions. And again, these perceptions are greatly due to the influence of prenatal hormones" says Derval.

DervalResearch has identified eight gender polymorphisms among humans based on the prenatal influence of hormones, four in females and four in males.

"We can identify the gender polymorphism or what we call the Hormonal Quotient® (HQ) of an individual based on the gender, ethnicity, and different biomarkers, including the digit ratio - the relative length of the index and ring fingers of the right hand"

To put it in layman's terms, knowing the HQ of consumers makes it possible to predict their preferred textures, flavours, smells, shapes and sounds. Thus far, DervalResearch has documented the HQ of over 50 target groups, and the profiles are already being used by some leading industry brands.

For Derval, the advantage to this is that companies will no longer need to conduct multiple market research surveys, because they only need to identify the profiles and HQ of their target market once. Once consumers are profiled, so the idea goes, companies can cater to their specific sensory preferences.

Derval believes that not only is this good for marketers, but also for consumers who will "...benefit from a greatly improved sensory experience."

More information about the study or related projects can be found on the DervalResearch website. To see how it works, click through and calculate your Hormonal Quotient®.

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