Stop and smell the babies

Your sense of smell is more interesting than you may think. Other senses take a fairly direct route from the sense organ to the part of the brain that processes the data. The olfactory (smell) nerve takes a more leisurely route via the parts of the brain that deal with emotions, mood and memory.

Have you ever detected a smell that caused an unexpected explosion of emotions, moods and memories? Does the smell of turps trigger a flashback to that wonderful day in 1969 when you ‘helped’ grandpa paint the front fence?

Did you know that new born babies can differentiate their mother from other mothers on the basis of smell alone? It seems that, at least early on in life, smell looms larger than we might credit.

It’s likely that you learned at school that humans have a limited sense of smell compared to other animals such as dogs, rats or pigs.  This sounds right because of all the senses, smell appears to be the easiest for humans to live without. We don’t appear to need it to survive.

This may be true for someone in Zillmere Qld in the year 2020 but it was not the case for anyone a few thousand years ago when it was necessary to hunt and gather food while remaining alert to danger.

When scientists looked for comparative data between human and animal ‘olfaction’ they found very little data. Perhaps because this question had once been considered a ‘no brainer.’ The data they did find covered 81 different smells and demonstrated that human olfaction is comparatively good. We even out-sniff dogs when it comes to vegetable smells.

In fact, scientists now suggest that human noses are a lot more useful than once thought. It appears that we can smell things like fear or anxiety in the sweat of other people. We can even determine, subconsciously, how closely related we are to them. Why? One theory is that this information can help us "deselect" certain people as potential mates. 

Experiments have shown that new born babies have a certain smell (no, not poo) that can be detected by women. The experiments have not been extended to men yet, however this smell is shown to have the same effect on a woman’s emotion as a baby’s eyes or laughter. It is a cute smell!

By Warren Heggarty, Panorama Magazine