Basically the article looks at a study, accepted for publication a few weeks ago in Science, demonstrates that female tears contain a "chemosignal." When men are exposed to that signal, they reported a loss of sexual arousal.
And this wasn't just an "OMG crying!" response - subjects simply sniffed a sample of female tears. Beyond self-reporting, physiological tests showed decreased arousal, reduced levels of testosterone, and changes in brain activity that were consistent with decreased arousal.
This isn't really unusual - pherimones have been talked up a lot in pop culture over the last few years, and the term is decades old. Cells - even normal cells in your own body - move following chemical signals in a process called Chemotaxis. Pherimones have also been shown to influence animal behavior.
What Jason Castro, the author of the SciAm article points out, is that this study is unique because it shows that the signal contained in tears taken from one human has a measurable response on another.
"Examples like these reinforce the idea that we might converse via molecules in a way that’s qualitatively different from our more familiar interactions. Whereas spoken conversations are abstract and nuanced, chemical conversations are physical and largely hard coded. This opens the door for some of the more imaginative hypotheticals surrounding the field of pheromone research. Could pheromones override out better judgment? Be distilled and weaponized to evoke mass panic? Crafted into a perfume with will-bending allure? Perhaps all of these things are already happening naturally, and we don’t even know it?
Probably not. Yet the newfinding by Dr. Sobel’s group is almost as exciting as scientists (and perfume makers) could have imagined. It turns out that we do indeed send a chemical message that others can’t resist. But that message is “hold off.”"
--Castro, J. "Her Tears Will Control Your Mind." Scientific American. 11 Jan 2011.(emphasis mine)It's fascinating to speculate how many other ways we signal each other as we go about our daily lives. Studies like this show the intricate link that's evolved between behavior, hormones, and the senses.
Moreover, what do studies like this mean in a world that's becoming increasingly electronic - where communication, be it business or personal, is carried out over long distances (leaving us with only visual or aural clues)? Will (Does?) this subtly change the way we communicate in the modern age?
You can read the full text of the article, which details the methods and findings of the study, and Castro's analysis on the Scientific American website.