Fun Facts About Our Sense of Smell
No two people smell the same odor the same way.
In other words, a rose may smell sweeter to some people than to others. In fact, according to neuropsychologist, Robert Bonkowski, a person never experiences one smell the same way twice. Furthermore, an individual’s ability to detect odors changes from day to day, depending on his or her physiological condition.
A woman’s sense of smell is keener than a man’s.
However, her sensitivity does change over the menstrual cycle. These changes are influenced by estrogen, which increases smell acuity in the first half of a woman’s cycle. It peaks at a time when women are most fertile and most sexually responsive.
Our odor memories frequently have strong emotional qualities and are associated with the good or bad experiences in which they occurred.
Olfaction is handled by the same part of the brain (the limbic system) that handles memories and emotions. Therefore, we often find that we can immediately recognize and respond to smells from childhood such as the smell of clean sheets, cookies baking in the oven, the smell of new books or a musty room in Grandma’s house. Very often we cannot put a name to these odors yet they have a strong emotional association even if they cannot be specifically identified.
Our sense of smell is at work even while we’re sleeping. It can alert us to dangers like the smell of smoke or wake us up with the delicious aroma of freshly brewed coffee. Research has even been done to develop an aroma alarm clock that would gently wake you up with a pleasant scent rather than a shrieking alarm! Our perception of odors occurs when aroma molecules enter our noses when we inhale. Our sense of smell is hard at work each time we inhale and the average person breathes in and out about 23,040 times per day. These odor molecules then seek out matching odor receptors, like a key in a lock. When this happens, the olfactory nerve is excited, electrical activity rushes from within and ultimately the perception of odor emerges.
The average human being is able to recognize approximately 10,000 different odors.
Our sense of smell is so powerful that when you smell skunk, you are really only smelling 0.000,000,000,000,071 of an ounce of scent! Dogs have about 200 million olfactory receptors. That is about 20 times the number of receptors that humans have.
Our sense of taste is greatly influenced by our sense of smell.
Our sense of smell in responsible for about 80% of what we taste. Without our sense of smell, our sense of taste is limited to only five distinct sensations: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and the newly discovered “umami” or savory sensation. All other flavors that we experience come from smell. This is why, when our nose is blocked, as by a cold, most foods seem bland or tasteless. Our sense of smell becomes stronger when we are hungry.
As we get old our sense of smell declines.
This also affects our sense of taste and food will lose its flavor. By 80 years old 80% of people have some major smell dysfunction and 50% are "anosmic" by the standards of young people. Not only do we lose our sense of smell, we lose our ability to discriminate between smells. Women while also losing smell sensitivity with age, perform better than men at all ages. Patients with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease, suffer olfactory losses. Very early stage Alzheimer's patients show a loss of smell sensitivity.
A larger portion of an animal’s brain is devoted to the sense of smell than that of humans.
Horses can smell water far away in the desert, salmon return across thousands of miles of oceans and rivers, drawn by the odor of the stream where they were hatched years and years before.
Your nose can smell directionally, telling you where an odor originates.
Your sense of smell is least acute in the morning. Our ability to perceive odors increases as the day wears on.
Throughout every day and night of our lives we smell a wide variety of odors without being aware of them at all.
We go about our activities, breathing in and out, as an infinite number of chemical molecules interact subliminally with our odor receptors. Only when an odor irritates or pleases us or acts as a sudden reminder of the past do we pause to take notice.
People recall smells with a 65% accuracy after a year. This compares to the visual recall of photos which sinks to about 50% after only three months.
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