Stereo smell: Study shows two nostrils are better than one

Yes, we do smell in stereo. So are you left-nostriled or right-nostriled?

According to the findings of a new study, humans (along with a lot of other mammals) compare the scents that come into their nose through each nostril to make more refined decisions as to what they’re smelling. And the research conducted on the study sounds like it would have been a lot of fun to participate in.

College students were blindfolded and asked to crawl through grassy fields, using their noses to find a chocolate-scented trail.

Their task was to follow a 30-foot-long path of twine that had been scented with chocolate. The students were blindfolded, gloved and geared up with knee and elbow pads so that they could not feel the twine as they sniffed their way for the chocolate course. They also had ear plugs to shut of that sense as well.

Before hitting the grass, they were shown a quick video of proper sniffing technique of putting their nose to the ground. Evidently most humans are adverse to poking their nose into the ground.

An amazing two-thirds of the participants were able to smell their way through the dog-legged course. But with one of their nostrils plugged, nobody was able to find their way to the end of the chocolate twine.

Armed with these findings, researchers are now figuring that our brain compares the information it gets from each nostril to decipher where and from what the smell is coming. That’s very similar to what our ears and eyes do in processing information about sound and sight.

But for a long time, it was considered that the nose worked as a single sense researcher since the nostrils are located so close together on a nose. Could there really be that much difference in the smells going in one nostril compared to the other?
The findings of the nostril research are published on the website of the journal Nature Neuroscience and will be expanded on in the January issue of that journal.

The chocolate in the grass experiment was just one of five tests done on the nostril theory. Another experiment tracked the paths that tiny bits of theatrical fog took as they were breathed in by study participants.

Armed with this new data, researchers will be fine-tuning their next experiments to get even more specific on how our noses actually work. They’ll be taking a look at questions like does our brain actually detect two separate aromas from our nostrils. Or does having two nostrils taking in a smell give us a stronger concentration of the smell to be able to process more detailed information about the smell.

Smells like some more fun experiments on the horizon. What kind of experiment would you design to figure out more about how our noses work?

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Lightning's picture
Lightning says:

Unfortunately, the person that breaks wind with a stinky even silently is still usually discovered rather quickly in a group of people around you.

posted on Thu, 12/21/2006 - 3:00pm
Thor's picture
Thor says:

But would they be able to smell who that breaking wind belongs to if they only had the use of one nostril? Sounds like a great science experiement to try out!

posted on Thu, 12/21/2006 - 4:46pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Why is it that blocking out other senses seems to strengthen those remaining? Does our mind automatically put more focus toward the remaining senses when others are gone?

posted on Thu, 12/21/2006 - 6:14pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

it says they blindfolded them and plugged their ears. does that mean that someone who is deaf and blind will have a better sense of smell?

posted on Thu, 12/21/2006 - 6:15pm
Thor's picture
Thor says:

I haven't seen scientific data on it, but you hear stories about how people without one sense can compensate through their other senses. I always like to think to Stevie Wonder, and the different combinations of sounds he makes with his music. I think that he finds a way to express through sound things that he can't experience with vision.

BTW: I just learned this today. Most owls have no sense of smell whatsoever. That's while they'll eat just about any dead thing that's laying around.

posted on Wed, 12/27/2006 - 7:28pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

this is amazing

posted on Mon, 01/22/2007 - 5:39pm
vaibhav's picture
vaibhav says:

I am very glad after finding answere wtat is stereo smelling

posted on Wed, 09/17/2008 - 1:28pm

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