Dec
07
2008

Secrets of scents: click on "oceanhug" for a bigger picture
Secrets of scents: click on "oceanhug" for a bigger pictureCourtesy oceanhug

Smelling a certain scent can trigger memory and emotion

Because the olfactory part of the brain is in an area sometimes called the "emotional brain", smell can call up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously.
Smell can be very important like when smelling smoke warns us of a fire or smelling rotten food prevents poisoning. If humans are at all like animals, smell may even influence who we will marry.

For instance, when a male mouse meets a novel female mouse, he will spend a long time sniffing her body, and especially her hind end. This not only tells him if she's ready to mate, but also by sniffing different females the male can chose to mate with those that are less genetically related to him. The Naked Scientist.

How does smell work?

Our sense of smell, also known as olfaction, involves an interaction between air born molecules called odorants and sensory neurons within our nose. The interaction is viewed by many as working like a key and lock. If the odorant is the right shape, it will fit into an appropriately shaped receptor site causing the nerve to react (fire), and a signal will be sent to the brain. An alternative theory, the vibration theory proposed by Luca Turin, posits that odor receptors detect the frequencies of vibrations of odor molecules in the infrared range by electron tunneling.

Humans have limited olfactory skills

Our genetic code determines how many and what kind of smell receptors we have. Human smell is very limited compared to many animals (and insects). Bloodhounds can pick out the scent of one human from hundreds of others even when the scent trail is several days old. It is fun to see how much fun dogs have checking out all the smells around them (and rolling in the really good ones).

Perfume science can be worth big money

I highly recommend watching this video, "Science of Scent" in which Luka Turin explains how his company is making money by creating customized scents. Luka Turin, along with his wife, Tania Sanchez, also wrote a book titled "Perfumes: The Guide" which is on Amazon's "Best Books of 2008" list. The link will take you to reviews of why it is so popular or you can sample some quotes here or look inside the book here.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Liza's picture
Liza says:

There's also a great chapter in Mary Roach's book "Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex" about human olfactory powers and the role that scent plays in attraction.

posted on Sun, 12/07/2008 - 11:41pm
ARTiFactor's picture
ARTiFactor says:

Thanks for the tip, Liza. From what I saw via "look inside this book (Bonk)" this will be my next "read in bed" book. ;)

posted on Mon, 12/08/2008 - 8:43am
Sneek's picture
Sneek says:

I knew that scents (perfumes and colgnes) could have a different smell/reaction to different people and I didn't know the science or olfactory powers of it. But when I think about it, there are some (really popular ones) that absolutely drive me nuts - maybe a Polo or something. It's like the scent stifles my breathing and cuts me on the intake. Yet, the people wearing it must love it as they seem to wear it by the gallon. tootle lu!

posted on Mon, 12/08/2008 - 9:41am
dellax28's picture
dellax28 says:

whenever i smell a scent it remind me of certain people, it must be that i'm so used to their scent (like you said) that my brain directly remind me of them.

posted on Thu, 12/11/2008 - 6:45pm
NeilWechsler's picture
NeilWechsler says:

I got used to sniff around while I walk on the streets. Sometimes I smell food, other times I smell various perfumes. I like to think that I have a great sense of smell, because for example I cannot be with a woman that does not smell in a certain way. I don't know exactly how a women should smell, but when I smell it I definitely I know she is close to being the one.

posted on Fri, 02/18/2011 - 7:25am

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