Monday 11 December 2017

Don't turn your nose up at human sense of smell

Smell is much more important to us than we think, strongly influencing human behaviour, eliciting memories and emotions, and shaping perception (Stock picture)
Smell is much more important to us than we think, strongly influencing human behaviour, eliciting memories and emotions, and shaping perception (Stock picture)

John von Radowitz

Dogs may be a nose ahead of us, but the human sense of smell is not to be sniffed at, a leading expert has claimed.

The idea a keen sense of smell is an animal rather than a human trait is a Victorian myth with no scientific basis, argues US neuroscientist Dr John McGann.

He points out that people can discriminate between around a trillion different odours. And the human olfactory bulb, the brain region that processes odour signals, is large and houses as many neurons as it does in many other mammals.

Dr McGann, from Rutgers University, who makes his case in the journal 'Science', said: "The sense of smell is just as good in humans as in other mammals, like rodents and dogs. We can detect and discriminate an extraordinary range of odours; we are more sensitive than rodents and dogs for some odours; we are capable of tracking odour trails; and our behavioural and affective states are influenced by our sense of smell."

He points an accusing finger at Paul Broca, a 19th century brain surgeon and anthropologist who promoted the notion that humans have an impoverished olfactory system.

The idea even influenced Sigmund Freud, leading him to insist having a poor sense of smell made humans susceptible to mental illness.

Smell is much more important to us than we think, strongly influencing human behaviour, eliciting memories and emotions, and shaping perception, said Dr McGann.

It plays a major and sometimes unconscious role in the way we interact with others, choose a mate, and decide what we like to eat, he stressed.

Irish Independent

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