5 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Our Sense of Smell


1. Smell is subjective...

The smells we love and prefer can have deeply personal and meaningful reasoning  behind them. Often, because we have specific memories linked to those scents. Much like we conducted a survey about your favorite smells, other surveys related to scent and memory have shown that scents regarded as positive and negative did not align with what one would consider conventional. For example, some people hated the smell of flowers but loved the smell of sweat! Simply put, people had experiences and memories to make sense of these disparities. That being said, other experiments have concluded that we also “tend to ‘like what we know’: people give higher pleasantness ratings to smells which they are able to identify correctly”. I guess we are creatures of habit!



 2. ...but at the same time, there is a scent universally regarded as ‘pleasant’

And it’s vanilla! If you don’t like it, then you’re certifiably unique! It is so universally loved because it feels warm and simple. Part of the simplicity aspect is related to the other definition of vanilla, too, meaning “plain”. Experiments, however, have gone even further, proving that vanilla has positive effects for the body and overall wellbeing. 

In fact, “medical experiments have shown that vanilla fragrance reduces stress and anxiety”, and that it makes us calmer. Some of it is due to the essences of vanilla, some of it to its positive memories, too! 



3. Smell Triggers Memories and Emotions and Brain Anatomy is the Culprit 

The olfactory bulb, which is where we process smell, is awfully close to regions related to emotion and memory (the amygdala and the hippocampus). Smell is the only sense that runs in that area of the brain. This likely explains why visual, auditory, and tactile senses do not trigger specific memories, nor the emotions surrounding it, as profoundly as smell does. 



4. You Can Smell Other People's Emotions 

Really? Well… decide for yourself. Utrecht University conducted a study in the Netherlands where they collected different men’s sweat (yes, this is real!). Half the men were watching The Shining, and the other half were watching Jackass. Naturally, the former was the frightened group, and the latter the disgusted group! Then the samples were blindly presented to women who responded with faces coded as fearful and disgusted respectively. Pretty neat!



5. The way you smell depends on your culture 

Smell is an often-overlooked sense. As it turns out, though, there was a shift by philosophers and scientists in the West on the value of the senses in the 17 and 1800s. Apparently, this varies by region! For example, the Ongee of the Andaman Islands believe that “the universe and everything in it is defined by smell”, which is pretty serious! So serious that their calendar seasons are based on what flowers bloom in that time-period. Not only is the season named after that flower, but it comes with its “own distinctive ‘aroma force[s]’”; a scent to accompany the season. Cool, right?


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