THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SMELL


by Stephen Juan

http://www.harpercollins.com.au/drst...news_smell.htm


Men and women judge smells differently, especially when they are smelling each other. Austrian scientists found that when men judge women, the women who men think have the most beautiful faces are also judged to smell the best. This was demonstrated in an experiment conducted by Dr. Anja Rikowski, a biologist at the Institute of Urban Ethology in Vienna. A group of women volunteers submitted T-shirts they had slept in for several nights. A group of men then chose the ones that smelled the best. The winners were consistently the women rated most attractive by a separate group of men. But when the tables were turned the results were the opposite. When men submitted their T-shirts, a group of women judged which ones smelled the best. But when a separate group of women judged the attractiveness of these men, the men judged as the worst smelling were judged as the most attractive and the best smelling were rated the least attractive. According to Dr. Rikowski, "this clearly shows intriguing differences in the mating strategies of men and women."


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What is the most popular smell of all? This may be surprising. It could be the smell of certain pastry goods and not the smell of the most expensive perfumes. A few years ago, perfume makers in search of better appealing fragrances tested dozens of coded odors using a panel of testers. The winner by far was revealed to be "synthesized cinnamon buns".


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It is an established practice in the real estate business that when showing a house, it is recommended that the vendor should have bread or pies baking in the oven. When the delightful smell wafts into the nose of the potential buyer, they're more likely to be placed into a more receptive frame of mind---and perhaps more willing to pay a higher price for the house.


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The smell in the atmosphere of a supermarket can effect consumer spending. THE FUTURIST reports that in experiments in supermarkets in Japan, it was found that spending went up when the smell of lemon was added to the air conditioning. Spending went down when the smell of sulfur was added.


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It would be difficult to imagine life without smell. Early experiments by NASA found that the efficiency of astronauts was reduced when confined to the near odor-free environment of a one-person space capsule. Astronauts found a smell-free environment so disturbing that they carried scented chemicals with them to counteract any negative effects of "odor-boredom". NASA integrates a variety of smells into the air conditioning system of the space shuttle.


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We smell by a chemical and physiological process. The keys to this process have only recently been discovered. Smells are carried on objects, air, and water. We smell by certain molecules dissolving onto hair-like cilia receptors that extend down from the olfactory bulb of the brain and into the nasal cavity. But researchers have long been baffled by how the nose can distinguish the more than 10,000 different odors found in nature with only about 1000 different odor nerve receptors available in the nose for that purpose. In a 1993 article in the journal, CELL, Drs. Richard Axel and Linda Buck, both then of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Columbia University in New York, proposed a new theory. They explained that we detect odors by using at least a thousand different special genes that are active exclusively in the cells of our odor nerve receptors. These special genes help our odor nerve receptors "paint a picture" for each odor. Any slight change in the molecular "picture" can change a sweet smell into a foul one--and vice versa. This is precisely what happens when, say, milk goes sour. The theory was proven earlier this year. In another article in CELL, Dr. Buck, now at Harvard University, along with colleagues at the Life Electronics Research Center in Amagasaki, Japan, presented the results of their experiments with mice. They bathed the olfactory neurons of the mice in a dye which lite up when activated by an odor. They were then able to follow the "picture" of the smell as it was being "painted".


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Why are we the last to smell our own body odor? Humans have a rather poor sense of smell compared to other animals. We have the physical capability of smelling just as well since we have the same number of odor nerve receptors as other mammals (about 1000). We ignore our own body odor because it has little consequence to us, although it could be highly offensive to others. According to Dr. Pat Barelli of the American Rhinologic Society in Washington, D.C., our nerves devoted to smell (olfactory nerves) become easily overloaded and "fatigued" by smells. As a consequence, the nervous system "ignores much information the nerves receive. Thus, the nerves do not respond to the smells of one's own body odor unless these smells dramatically change in some way. Dr. Morley Kare of the Monell Institute at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia add that good smells as well as bad can be "ignored". He points out that residents of Hershey, Pennsylvania "ignore" the chocolate smell of the chocolate factory that dominates the town. Although visitors to Hershey are often overwhelmed by the chocolate smell, townies simply don't notice it.


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The nose was very important to England's King George III. He believed that the sense of smell could get you into real trouble. He changed the law to include the provision that if a man believed that he'd been seduced into matrimony by his wife's perfume, he had sufficient grounds for divorce.


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Studies show that familiar odors revive old memories more readily than do familiar sights or sounds. Knowing this, professional hypnotists who try to evoke from subjects remembrances from their past will often start by using particular fragrances such as baby powder, sawdust, tar, roses, etc.


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It is often said that women have a better sense of smell than men. One theory holds that pregnancy forces a woman to be more discriminating in what she eats. Hence, she needs to be better at smelling. Ditto for tasting.


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Blindfolded, you can guess the sex of somebody 95 per cent of the time by the smell of that person's breath. In an experiment at the University of Pittsburgh, subjects exhaled through a tube. It was sniffed by other subjects. They got it right 19 out of 20 times.


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According to SEXUAL CHEMISTRY by Julius Fast and Meredith Bernstein, stimulating the olfactory center of the brain under the erotic stimulus of touch can evoke an emotional response. Masseurs and masseuses are aware of this effect and avoid it by the use of unscented massage oils.


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Studies show that 25 per cent of people who lose their sense of smell also lose their sex drive.