Humans are far more dependent on their vision than their sense of smell, but this doesn’t mean that the ability to smell isn’t important. Those who lose this ability often quickly realize how important it is for any number of daily activities. Smell evolved to serve an array of important functions, but the science of smell is only beginning to reveal how scent influences people’s feelings, attitudes, and behaviors.
Smell Is the Most Ancient Sense
Vision and hearing are relatively complicated senses that require a lot of cells to coordinate in a fairly complex manner. While plenty of animals can see and hear, “lower” organisms like worms or single-celled bacteria have to rely on other ways to navigate the world around them.
Since the early stages of evolution, organisms have used chemodetection, a primitive version of smell, to interact with the world around them. As life diversified and evolved, many creatures developed extremely complex means of detecting chemicals in the air. Some mammals, including bears and dogs, are many times more sensitive than humans and can detect everything from illicit substances to cancers through scent alone.
Scent Is Tied Strongly With Emotion
Because the sense of smell is so old, it wires together exceptionally easily with emotional memories in the brain. In one study published in the scientific journal Memory, study participants reported feeling positive feelings of nostalgia from smells that evoked memories of the past.
The nostalgic effect of scent is so powerful that advertisers have begun trying to harness it. Though the science of smell for advertising purposes is far from perfect, marketers who signal positive emotions with scent may tap into the body’s unconscious emotional response system.
Every Person Has Their Own Smell
You may have heard that romantic attraction, to some degree, is controlled by scent. Generally, people are attracted to those who smell somewhat like their parents, though different enough that they wouldn’t mistake one for the other. This plays an important role in helping people find partners who are genetically distinct but still likely to be compatible.
Because everyone’s individual compatibility is different, everyone has a different smell. While the times when humans could recognize one another merely by smelling their musk in the air are long gone, some of your feelings and thoughts about other people may be dictated somewhat by their scent. If you find this disconcerting, just realize that your body often has good reasons for working the way it does.
The Science of Smell Is Still Young
Though scientists have known about pheromones and other basic scent-related concepts for a long time, a large portion of the academic research on scent has been published in the last 10 or so years. With many emerging avenues of research, from scent marketing, to fragrance oil products, to evolutionary psychology, the future of olfactory science is an exciting place.
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You Can Smell People’s Feelings
Have you ever wondered why dogs, wolves, and their relatives tuck their tails between their legs when frightened? It’s because canines have scent glands underneath their tails that signal their emotions to other animals. When animals tuck their tails between their legs, they are covering these scent glands, blocking pheromones from becoming airborne and letting other animals know what they’re feeling.
Since all dogs have to do is simply look at the other animal to understand that it’s afraid, tail-tucking is more of a vestigial process than a current, useful one. You may be surprised to know that humans are essentially the same. While fear and certain other emotions can be communicated through smell in humans too, we tend to read body language relatively easily. Plus, it doesn’t do us much good to know that Jason from accounting is afraid of Sarah the regional manager anyway.
Women Are Better At Smelling Than Men
Women are renowned for their ability to distinguish even the minutest of color differences from one another while their male counterparts are left scratching their heads. Because of their acute hearing, women also tend to make better audio engineers. If this isn’t enough, women are also substantially better at smelling. Recent science has explored the density of olfactory areas in human brains, finding that women tend to have more cells in those areas.
This may be frustrating for many men to hear, but women have likely developed their keen senses out of a biological necessity. Scientists working to advance the science of smell still aren’t quite sure how women’s improved senses contributed to their survival, but the fact that they are better indicates that they likely helped in some ways.
To Some Extent, Humans Have Unlearned Smelling
Where other mammals can smell with an unbelievable level of clarity, humans have been left in the dust. This is simply because smell isn’t as important to us as it used to be when we were primates living in Sub-Saharan Africa. While the ability to detect scents is still important for tasting food, finding partners, and sensing dangerous chemicals, much of what we smell now affects us subconsciously.
Scenting Cells Renew Themselves Every Month
Just like the other cells in your body, scenting cells have a limited lifespan. It takes your nose approximately four weeks to develop an entirely new set of cells. This means that you pretty much have a new nose every month. Compared with the hair cells in your ears that cause hearing loss when they die, such a reliable lifecycle is a great thing.
You Can Harness the Science of Smell in Your Home
Even if you aren’t a scent marketing professional, you can still harness the power of scent in your home to create positive feelings and powerful associations. With Whole Home Scenting, you can set a diffuser to circulate the scent of your choosing through your entire home.
Among the latest developments in the science of smell, Whole Home Scenting uses an easily installed device to circulate a pleasant scent through your existing HVAC system. Installation takes just minutes, rendering candles and localized diffusers obsolete. Contact Whole Home Scenting today for more information.