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Human Sense of Smell Underestimated

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the we-got-something-of-a-hounddog dept.

Science 278

Benjamin Long writes to note a study, by a team of neuroscientists and engineers, that demonstrated that humans can follow a scent trail — an ability that most had assumed only animals possessed. Furthermore, the study demonstrated for the first time that humans make use of differential information from the two nostrils. The researchers blindfolded college students who crawled through grass to sniff out a chocolate-scented trail. Here is the abstract of the paper in Nature Neuroscience. From the article: "The humans, however, still sniffed much more slowly than dogs, which may partially account for canines' greater efficiency at scent tracking. [A commentator] says that despite their relatively sluggish speed, the fact that subjects improved with training is noteworthy. 'I think that shows the effect of our distinctively different behavior in actually using this sense,' he says. 'The dog [has] been doing this its whole life, and humans [were] just asked to plunge in the first time they've ever done it.'"

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278 comments

hey... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17302512)

smell my finger...

Re:hey... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17302592)

They eventually found the 'chocolate' left behind by the dog.

Student Dignity (5, Funny)

hadhad69 (1003533) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302532)

The researchers blindfolded college students who crawled through grass to sniff out a chocolate-scented trail. This just proves students will do anything for $10

Re:Student Dignity (3, Funny)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302574)

This just proves students will do anything for $10
Na, they had to pay them $1000 to sniff out the RMS scented trail.

Re:Student Dignity (2, Funny)

Hijacked Public (999535) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302604)

I also like that they trained them. For gun dogs this usually involves a shock collar and yelling things like "I said Whoa dammit".


I hope it went down like that with these kids too.

Re:Student Dignity (4, Interesting)

trybywrench (584843) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302616)

This just proves students will do anything for $10

before i settled on computer science i took a couple of pysch classes. We were required to participate in a couple of experiments each semester so that's probably why they did it.

Re:Student Dignity (3, Funny)

russ1337 (938915) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302958)

>>> "The researchers blindfolded college students who crawled through grass to sniff out a chocolate-scented trail"

I'm not proud of it, but I've dated girls that'd crawl through grass on the scent of chocolate.

Re:Student Dignity (1)

Ingolfke (515826) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303322)

Actually the researches didn't pay them anything... they just setup a booth during rush week. KEEP SNIFFING PLEDGE!

Worst. Smell. Ever. (5, Funny)

AssCork (769414) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302560)

I was standing behind the server racks and I thought I could sqeeze off a silent fart without anyone noticing. Sadly the offending trouser bomb got caught up in the fans of a 4U Server. The cheese-scented ass gas was recirculated through every fan in the room evenly distributing its greasy essence all over the datacenter. None of my fellow technicians will speak to me since this awful and embarrassing emission.

Your story is entirely made up (1)

Latent Heat (558884) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303452)

Your story is entirely made up based on your fellow techs not wanting to talk to you. If it was real, they would be saying, "Why didn't I think of that!"

No surprises (4, Funny)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302570)

The researchers blindfolded college students who crawled through grass to sniff out a chocolate-scented trail.

Most women can follow a chocolate scented trail, oddly enough the scent trail left by diamonds and currency works just as well. On the flip side most men are able to scent track women so I guess there's balance in nature.

Re:No surprises (1)

RAMMS+EIN (578166) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302908)

That also explains why men steal money and diamonds, but not chocolate. By the time the man gets to the end of the trail, the woman he's been tracking has eaten the chocolate.

Agree no surprises. Richard Feynman documented it (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17302982)

Richard Feynman (famous caltech physicist) documented his observations of this in his autobiography too; where he demonstrated for friends that he could smell out recently handled books in a book case.

Many people who suspect their spouses of affairs also observe this ability too (knowing in which rooms a guest's been in).

This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone; and it's pretty sad that the obvious gets passed as new, novel research.

Fish (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17303394)

On the flip side most men are able to scent track women so I guess there's balance in nature.

Men can also scent track fish.... suppose those two scent tracking skills are related?

Duh? (5, Insightful)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302572)

that demonstrated that humans can follow a scent trail -- an ability that most had assumed only animals possessed.

Err, I recently smelled something burning. I walked through my house using my nose to follow the scent trail, and locate the single light bulb in the chandelier that had a tiny piece of plastic stuck to it that was burning (from a Christmas decoration).

How do these researchers think I performed this amazing feat? Got out my hound dog and had him sniff around?

Re:Duh? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17302758)

How do these researchers think I performed this amazing feat? Got out my hound dog and had him sniff around?


Unless you were blindfolded, you could have used your eyes to look for the burning plastic. And since you knew that the light bulbs were on (and hot), you could have used your powers of deduction to guess that the chandelier was a likely place to look.


Of course, since you never informed the researchers about your "amazing feat", it's not terribly surprising that they didn't know about it.

Re:Duh? (2, Interesting)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303038)

you could have used your eyes to look for the burning plastic.

I could have, but didn't. And that's a bit impractical looking at every square inch of the room to identify something small and burning (if you can even see what's burning).

And since you knew that the light bulbs were on (and hot), you could have used your powers of deduction to guess that the chandelier was a likely place to look.

Actually, I was predisposed to look for electrical shorts to find the burning source. It was only by following my nose that I figured out that wasn't it.

Re:Duh? (3, Informative)

Otter (3800) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302810)

How do these researchers think I performed this amazing feat?

As I understand it, the prevailing idea was that you had to walk around or move your head to identify the smoke gradient, whereas these new results suggest that you can get directional information just from nostril separation, the way you determine the direction of sounds.

Re:Duh? (1)

otacon (445694) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302864)

Maybe I am a miracle of science, but I've always been able to tell which way a smell was coming from...you follow the smell until it becomes stronger then stronger then you will eventually get to the source...I don't see how this is ground breaking...

Re:Duh? (4, Informative)

Otter (3800) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303008)

...you follow the smell until it becomes stronger then stronger then you will eventually get to the source...

That's the point -- the question is whether you can identify the direction without following it! (Which, apparently is also possible.)

Re:Duh? (4, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302882)

Who would have guessed that humans were animals after all? ;)

Most people underestimate their sense of hearing as well. Have you ever seen any of those blind people who can use echolocation to scan an area? Pretty impressive. When I first saw a video of it, I decided to experiment around. I spun around in my (then apartment) to disorient myself, with the intent of "clicking" to orient myself. However, I found something odd: I couldn't disorient myself. There was a faint electrical hum in one corner of a room on the opposite side, and that was enough that my mind automatically reoriented me, even though that sound was undoubtedly bounding off of all sorts of surfaces to get to me. Our sense of hearing provides an excellent direction-finding ability, so the only extra components for echolocation is the ability to A) get a good echo, and B) to be able to handle more complex echo returns.

So, I went online to see what experiments were out there. Apparently, they've done experiments in which humans are blindfolded and told to walk as close to an object as possible without running into it. They vary its distance with each run. At first, people either run into it or are way off. However, with successive runs, they become quite good at avoiding collision, ending up right next to the object. However, if you muffle their footsteps and plug their ears, they lose their ability to do this. The echoes from their footsteps are enough for them to find the object.

Re:Duh? (4, Funny)

PingSpike (947548) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303304)

Your antecdote only further proves that you are in fact, a werewolf. And of course you didn't use your hound dog. You tore that poor thing apart during the last full moon.

Not news to me (1)

eclectro (227083) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302586)

I can sniff out a KFC five blocks away and my sniffer can lead me there.

On the Internet... (4, Funny)

russotto (537200) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302596)

...no one knows you're a dog. Until you start bragging about your scent-tracking superiority, then you've given away the game.

sense of smell first to develope (2, Interesting)

lashi (822466) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302622)

Hmm.. I remember reading somewhere that sense of smell is first to develope, then it gets surpassed by sense of sight and eventually relegated to background.

I, for one, can't even smell my own breath.

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Re:sense of smell first to develope (1)

LordNimon (85072) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303062)

I, for one, can't even smell my own breath.

Well I can smell it. Geez, dude.

Re:sense of smell first to develope (1)

value_added (719364) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303252)

Hmm.. I remember reading somewhere that sense of smell is first to develope, then it gets surpassed by sense of sight and eventually relegated to background.

I'm sure that's been carefully studied and quantified, but when you're born your eyes aren't very developed, not that you'd be capable of understanding what you see.

My theory is that, at least with respect to dogs, their sense of smell remains well-developed and prominent for a number of reasons. They're closer to the ground. They don't use tables or chairs, but prefer to eat on the ground, where everything else is anyway. Dogs breathe at a different rate than we do, so even though both of us have double nostrils, they take in the smells around them faster. A big wet nose is always more sensitive than a narrow one that's typically filled with dust.

More importantly, the interesting part of the female of the species is always at nose level.

A dog is a million times better (1)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302636)

I've heard that a dog's sense of smell is a million times better than ours, and that they can detect a scent trail 3 weeks old. I'm pretty sure that if humans could really do that, we wouldn't need dogs to do it... not to mention that dogs don't seem to mind if they sniff something gross on the way!

Dogs can't always track... (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302850)

The quality of scent trails depends on many factors including temperature, moisture and the terrain. Having been pig hunting with dogs, I've seen them being able to pick up a scent trail that was days old and only an hour or so later they could not track where a pig had walked only minutes ago. The first trail was in long grass and had been left in the morning with dew on the grass. The second was in the middle of the day over open ground.

Re:A dog is a million times better (4, Informative)

sbaker (47485) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302940)

In the NPR interview with the guys who ran the study, they said that it seemed that the only limit on the speed that practiced humans could track the scent was the speed they could crawl with their noses that close to the ground. That makes sense - I mean you can't crawl along with your nose literally in the grass at any kind of speed at all. A dog is able to run at full speed with it's nose just inches from the ground - and it's eyes are placed so it can still be looking forward as it does it.

So this may have nothing whatever to do with the sensitivity of our sense of smell and more to do with the shape of our head, neck and the length of our fore-limbs.

We mostly evolved to use our sense of smell for detecting whether food has gone bad or not - and for that, having nostrils right above our mouths is plenty good enough.

Dogs are evolved to track prey and find carrion - they need to be able to sniff and run at the same time.

Dog's noses are very impressive...it's incredible to see the kinds of tricks they can manage. But I wonder where that statement of "a million times more sensitive than humans" comes from - I bet it's something some journalist guessed at 100 years ago that we are all passing on as if it were the definitive answer. This study suggests to me that some simple practicing could narrow that gap considerably.

Re:A dog is a million times better (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303116)

There are already highly trained human noses already out there and not all dog noses have the same degree of sensitivity. My take is that bloodhounds and other breeds with extremely sensitive sense of smell are indeed at least that much more sensitive than trained human noses. I've heard of some incredible feats involving detection of odors orders of magnitude below the threshhold concentration that human smellers could achieve. It's definitely not just that they can crawl faster than we can.

Re:A dog is a million times better (1)

Bertie (87778) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303550)

A dog's sense of smell is a million times better? I don't believe that for a second. Wny, my dog doesn't even know a claret from a burgundy...

We Smell in Stereo (4, Interesting)

Ranger (1783) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302662)

I heard about this on NPR yesterday [npr.org]. The researcher said we smelled in stereo. They proved it by plugging up one nostril at a time and then attaching a device so that both nostrils could smell in mono. The test subjects took far longer to find stuff. He also said one people got attuned to smelling a trail they were limited to the speed at which they could crawl.

Richard Feynman did a number of smell experiments with his first wife, Arlene. He would leave the room and she would handle bottles and books then he'd return and see if he could determine which ones she'd touched. He was able to find them. It's detailed in Surely Your Joking, Mr. Feynman [gorgorat.com].

There! And I didn't make any smelling cracks about misunderestimating or Uranus or "once you get past the smell it tastes all right".

Re:We Smell in Stereo (1)

silentounce (1004459) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302888)

I heard that as well. They also said that the results were intriguing because the humans did fairly well on the first try. Although dogs could do it much faster, they've been sniffing trails since birth. It'd be interesting to think how good humans could be at this sort of thing if enough effort and training was put into it. And joking aside, I wonder if Helen Keller would be better at this than the average person.

Re:We Smell in Stereo (1)

ToxikFetus (925966) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303270)

I wonder if Helen Keller would be better at this than the average person.

Has the olfactory system of zombies ever been properly mapped out? Empirical evidence (i.e. horror movies) indicates that zombies navigate by touch (the straight-armed shuffle) or echolocation (Braaaiiinnnsss...), rather than smell.

Re:We Smell in Stereo (2, Interesting)

Reziac (43301) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302914)

I've always had a good nose, as humans go (and an extremely discerning sense of taste, which is closely related). Much better than the average cat, and a little better than the average toy dog. Not nearly as good as my gundogs, but I can still sometimes find a shot bird (or a plastic bumper), in cover, by scent alone. I can often find stuff dropped or tracked onto the floor by scent, without having to get down to floor level to do it.

Dogs have to learn to use their scenting ability too, and the more native ability they have, the faster they learn to use it. Most toy dogs never learn to really use their noses, nor do many cats, even when they have need (frex, outdoor cats that have to hunt their dinner). It's rather like how someone who is naturally good at math learns higher math much more readily than someone who starts off with no inherent grok of math.

Smoking, or living in a smoking household, will kill your scenting ability in a hurry. I've noticed that Cajun-spiced food does the same thing, so delicious as it is, I don't eat it.

I never thought of scenting as "stereo" but should have, since scents are typically "directional"... you can tell what angle they're at and about how far away, rather like you would with sight or hearing.

Let me think here... (1)

CODiNE (27417) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302684)

Would I rather hold a leash and follow a dog around, or put my own face in the wet muddy grass? Hmmmmmm...

Was it a fair experiment? (1)

Trillan (597339) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302686)

By the end, I'm sure the participants were drooling. Did they get to eat the chocolate?

They may have a better sense of smell... (1)

Joebert (946227) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302694)

... but we're still smart enough to get out of the room when we hear, "the noise".

Stereo smell. (4, Insightful)

sbaker (47485) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302718)

It's not evident from the slash summary - but one interesting discovery is that we actually smell in stereo - hence two nostrils.

That comes as a surprise to me - our other stereo sense organs (eyes and ears) are placed just about as far apart on our heads as is structurally possible - but our nostrils are really close together. OK - we don't have a really great sense of smell and we don't rely on it at all - but dogs clearly do - and their nostrils are also very close together.

You'd think we (or at least dogs) would have nostrils mounted just below our ears.

Weird.

Re:Stereo smell. (1)

DaleBob (676487) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303060)

Perhaps it suggests that the sense of smell is sensitive to even extremely small concentration gradients, in which case a close spacing would enable greater positional accuracy.

Word.

Re:Stereo smell. (2, Insightful)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303098)

It's important for us (well, dogs anyway) to be able to get our noses close to the scent trail to pick up faint scents, so our nostrils have to stick out in front. Think of a line following robot -- it's best to have two sensors, separated a little, but not by all that much.

Re:Stereo smell. (2, Interesting)

jd (1658) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303136)

My guess would be that scent travels so slowly that stereo is not obtained from time displacement but from concentration difference, and that concentration differences are better calculated by having the nostrils directional than physically displaced. Physical displacement requires much more wiring and piping, and the payoff probably isn't worth the extra cost for a sense of smell.


I'm curious if the researchers produced CFD models of different types of nose to compare the mechanics of different nose structures against the ability of those same nose structures to give stereo information, etc. I somehow doubt it - I'm begininning to be rather skeptical over the ability of researchers to actually study something as opposed to merely report on it - but this is the sort of information that would allow the results to be understood and interpreted in context. It would also be good if modern brain activity imaging could be used to see what the brain actually does TO interpret scent in stereo. How is the information correlated, and what with? Obviously, imaging is too expensive to do on a first-round study that sounds like it was more a recreational piece of research than something anyone expected to get real results from.


As it stands, we know that a result occurs without knowing actually knowing a whole lot about what happens, why, how or even when. (There's a huge time lag between when the data is collected and when the person acts on it.) A result is good, but when that's all you have, it's no more science than alchemy or spell-casting, and without quantifiable data, is not really any more repeatable. We've moved on past the stone circles and ritual magic - at least, I hope so. It would seriously make a mess of the server room if they started ripping out guts there in Druid rituals.

Re:Stereo smell. (4, Interesting)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303328)

... our other stereo sense organs (eyes and ears) are placed just about as far apart on our heads as is structurally possible"

For our eyes, that's not really true. Our eyes are placed slightly apart, looking forward so that their respective fields of vision overlap each other. Then our brain calculates how far away objects are from us by noticing how much inward each eye has to rotate to hold the object in focus.

Prey animals, like deer and cows for example, have eyes mounted on totally opposite sides of their heads, like our ears. Each of their eyes sees an almost complete separate image. Their total field of vision is almost 300 degrees. Owls are predators par excellance, and have stereoscopic ears set just below their eyes. Their entire face is bowl-shaped like a radar dish.

So, if we evolved solely as prey animals, we probably would have eyes on the sides of our heads, near our ears. If we evolved solely as hunters, we would probably have forward facing ears that we could rotate, like cats or wild dogs. There is some debate, but some anthropologists argue that our forward-facing eyes and stereoscopic vision comes from having to navigate in trees. This is also backed up by the fact that we have 3-color vision, which you need to see ripe fruit, where as hunters like cats and dogs see in black and white. There are vegetarian, tree-dwelling monkeys that have forward-facing eyes, stereoscopic vision, and have 3-color vision*.

It is interesting that smell, if it is truly a stereo sense, would have both nostrils so close together. Maybe that's because light and sound waves don't get mixed up as much as scents on the wind, so each input would be very different. Also, smell seems to be a short-range sense, whereas sight and sound are long-distance senses. I don't mean that prey animals don't smell things far away, but it's not as usefully accurate as long-distance hearing or vision. If you're relying on smell to tell you when things are sneaking up on you, it will probably be too late by the time you really get a good whiff. A sound or a sight really tells you where they are, and which direction you need to run in. My guess would be that the stereoscopy of smell would be useful when you are examining something up close, such as a plant or carcass.

*By 3-color vision, I mean that we have specific receptors cell in our eyes for 3 discrete wavelengths of light -- red, green, and blue. Some birds, for instance, have four.

Following scent trail? My mom did it! (4, Interesting)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302724)

Well, in Indian cuisine, especially the South Indian cuisine there is a foul smelling spice (!?) named asafoitida which is very popular. The root for asafoitida is foetid meaning foul smelling. It actually figures as a major mystery smell in a Agatha Christie story.

When I was young I used to hate that stuff, especially because my mom would throw blocks of it in the curries without powdering them. One bite of that chunk, and you will curse everyone in sight. So enraged I was, that I once stole her entire stash of asafoitida. I wanted to throw it away in garbage, but I was young and scared and did not dare throw it all away. So I hid it in a trunk in the loft. And, yes as I said in the subject line, my mom sniffed it out and found the stash. So yes, humans can sniff out very aromatic substances. But faint traces like a dogs do [note the significant absence of the apostrophe after the s in dogs] ? I am not so sure.

Re:Following scent trail? My mom did it! (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302906)

I'd phrase that as either "like a dog does" or "like dogs do".

I gather the real significance is that the test subjects can figure out with a sniff whether they're on the right or left side of a scent trail. The story doesn't seem to be about finding a stationary odor or detecting faint scents.

Not all humans can (5, Interesting)

Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (949321) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302734)

Benjamin Long writes to note a study, by a team of neuroscientists and engineers, that demonstrated that humans can follow a scent trail

My first job after graduating from college was working as a computer programmer at a US Air Force base. I worked in the main building for our section of the base and our colonel one day was having a VIP come by to visit him. He walked out to the main area and smelled something burning. Convinced that his canine sense of smell had saved the day and wanting to show off for his visitor, he promptly called the base fire department and demanded that they send a truck out to investigate "the burning wires smoldering within one of the walls". The base fire department dispatched a truck and the firemen investigated and told the colonel that what he smelled was burnt popcorn from the break room and there was nothing smoldering within the walls. The colonel then did the only thing that a military man who has just embarassed himself could do. He promptly banned microwave popcorn.

Re:Not all humans can (2, Interesting)

hey! (33014) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302900)

My dad was a professional chef. A really good professional chef. Which means that unlike your colonel, he had a professionally trained sense of smell. If he was home, and you'd been out drinking or smoking pot, you were busted. You could rush from the door straight upstairs, and he'd smell it on you from his armchair, ten feet off your path.

Re:Not all humans can (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17303306)

He promptly banned microwave popcorn.

Good. That stuff smells nauseating.

Pictures (2, Funny)

cheese-cube (910830) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302800)

The researchers blindfolded college students who crawled through grass to sniff out a chocolate-scented trail.

Pictures pls.

Re:Pictures (1)

Ingolfke (515826) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303408)

Oh shit... another one you people with the blindfolded college student participating in a science experiment fetish. You people are sick.

Feynman wrote about this in 1985 (1)

ivar (31153) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302816)

In his collection of memoirs "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character)", Richard Feynmann wrote of hilarious events surrounding his experiments with his own ability to track scent trails. The story is called "Testing Bloodhounds". Man, that guy was ahead of his time for *everything*...

This is the first published neuroscience research (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17302820)

...performed by a fraternity.

Next year's research promises refinements in the LD50 of ethanol in fully-grown mammals.

IIRC, Feynman mentions this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17302824)

I think it's somewhere in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman where he mentions that he once got down on all fours and tried to track a scent like a bloodhound, with some success. Apparently the biggest single reason why dogs' noses work better than humans' is simpy that they are closer to the ground.

smell (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17302848)

when I quit smoking a few years back after having smoking since I was about 13 (and raised by two smokers) I recovered my sense of smell and taste (they are certainly intertwined)
My sense's of taste and smell are so actute now - it's amazing! I can smell people smoking a few cars in front of me - peoples aftershave and perfumes are most times extreme and putrid (I believe it must be animal urine in them)
The weirdest experience was the re-living of memories evoked through smell, that I had long forgotton. Apparently, smell is the sense most connected to memory, I literally feel younger than ever (36yrs old in reality) Now I can smell the deeper complexities within freshly cut grass that I had completely forgotton. Quit that damn cigarette - you really do get your life back (lots more money too)

Dosn't prove smell in stereo (2, Interesting)

addsalt (985163) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302854)

In testing to see if humans smell in stereo the best experiment they could come up with is having people follow a piece of scented rope in the grass? All this experiment would prove is that people can smell. If you loose the sent you turn your head to the left or right and if the sent increases, you move in that direction. They went through the extra step of jamming things in people's noses and surprise, people didn't do so well with this teflon contraption hanging off their face.

Much of common life destroys basic senses. (5, Interesting)

CherniyVolk (513591) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302870)


One thing I noticed, during bootcamp was that my sense of smell became incredibly accute. While, I'll award the reader with the fact that I was a prior smoker to bootcamp, I will say that non-smokers DEFINATELY noticed the difference as well.

While it's not likely we as a society will retort back to nature in a sense, I will say, the body naturally cleans itself and the only reason a "bum" stinks as bad as he does is in relation to all the non-natural environment surrounding him. Not only that, but we are so used to the man made scents, that natural scents tend to stand out even more.

For example... while some city women will think a man from the country is being a sexist pig who treats women like objects... the fact is, men CAN smell women and from a considerable distance away.

OK. Let me stress this, becuase this is when it hit me like a brick during boot camp. It was almost a "holy shit do I have a Marvel Comic superhero nose?", no I don't and you don't either. But, when at a club, a female can be practically touching you and you might smell her perfume. In the work place, a female sitting in the next cubicle might not make her presence known until she makes sufficient noise to catch your attention....

After five weeks into boot camp, a female division walked past the barracks we were at, and walked up stairs. I would accurately judge the distance to about 50 feet away, and every single guy in the barracks literally smelled the girls. We didn't have to hear them. We didn't have to see them. We could smell them and knew they were there. The scents were distinguishable too, not just a generic feminine hormone release into the air. If two girls were in the next room, the guys three rooms down could smell two different scents.

When I was a kid, females weren't allowed to go hunting, irregardless of what time of month or whatever they washed their bodies with. Until boot camp, I always thought it was a wives tale that women gave off that much odor... but I swear to you. Yes, if I am able to smell a female just as well as see her from 50 feet away... then a deer or buck with much better noses can certainly smell a human female from 100 yards away. A man could probably smell the presence of a female much further than 50 feet away, it's just that's the distance I know for a fact and even at 50 feet, the scent was unbelievably strong. How far away before it becomes a hint? The girl might as well have showered in perfume and stood two inches behind me.

Nowadays, away from the lack of everyday luxuries and eminties, inhalation of cigarette smoke, car exhaust, overwhelming stench of plastics and asphalt... no, I couldn't tell you if a girl with no perfume is sitting five feet over in the next cubicle. It's somewhat sad. But, you are capable of doing it. Most people who go on long hunting trips in the wilderness know what I'm talking about. Without all this crap we deal with, this man made crap, nature gave us some pretty interesting abilities that have been long taken for granted or the use is nolonger really needed.

The scent of the girls is what blew me away the most. So vivid, so strong so unexpected. But, I also realized that a lot of other things that might have been overlooked or not processed certainly was while in boot camp. Such as the bed of flowers outside the barracks... yeah, you can smell those things. In modern day life, much of those scents are still hitting our nose, but if they remain being processed it's either at a subconscious level or outright ignored altogether. Anyway, it doesn't surprise me that a group of college students was able to smell a trail of chocolate in the lawn. Doesn't surprise me one bit.

Re:Much of common life destroys basic senses. (4, Insightful)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303494)

Let me play devil's advocate -- can you be sure that a human male doesn't have as strong a scent as a human female? Maybe women in the women's barracks are able to smell a man when they are amongst only women just as well as you and the other guys are able to smell a woman. Maybe human males have specific receptors for whatever chemicals a human female secretes.

Re:Much of common life destroys basic senses. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17303528)

Out of curiosity any ideas if the female soldiers had gained "enhanced" sent, and if they could smell differentiate the guys or would it remain a mystery cause asking the opposite sex that would be strange?

Great. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17302874)

As if we need another reason for women to tell us that men are dogs.

Wait a minute. (2, Funny)

Jethro (14165) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302910)

The researchers blindfolded college students who crawled through grass to sniff out a chocolate-scented trail.

Sure... "researchers".

This is one of those weird Japanese game shows!

I was reading a book called (5, Interesting)

multiplexo (27356) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302924)

Crystal Fire [amazon.com] and they had an interesting anecdote about the beginnings of semi-conductor research. In the late 1930's early 1940s the scientists at Bell labs were experimenting with silicon to see if they could build rectifiers and other electronic components out of it. At the time there really wasn't any theory about how these things might have worked. Some silicon rods showed semi-conductive behavior, some didn't. Finally they found one rod that showed strong semi-conductive behavior. They couldn't figure out what it was that made this rod special until the scientists and machinist who worked on it said that when it was cut or ground it gave off the same smell as one of the old carbide lamps that were used on many automobiles until the late 1920s. One of the chemists realized that what they were smelling was trace amounts of phospine gas, which meant that the rod has phosphorous in it. This was a surprise as the levels of phosphorous in the sample were so small that they didn't show up in a spectrographic analysis, it was the noses of the scientists and machinist that gave them the clue that the proper trace impurities in silicon would enhance the semi-conductive behavior.

Taste == smell (1, Informative)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302938)

When we talk about our sense of taste in everyday conversation, what we are really talking about is our sense of smell.

The taste buds on our tongue have only four types of receptors: salt, sweet, sour, and bitter. Each has a specific region on the tongue -- for instance, bitter is on the back of the tongue.

All of the other qualities of food that we normally ascribe to taste are actually olfactory stimuli. When food is in our mouth, some of it wafts back up into our nose, where our most sensitive smelling tissue lies. This sensation is what we are referring to when we talk about the particular taste of chocolate, coffee, oranges, wine, etc. -- aside from their sweet, sour, salty or bitter qualities.

In humans, this sensitive smelling tissue lies inside the face behind the nose, in the nasal canal. In dogs, it's the wet tissue that makes up the surface of their nose. That's why dogs' sense of smell seems so much better than ours -- they are basically tasting the air and everything they get close to with their nose. You can smell about as well as a dog can, if you stick things in your mouth. But given what dogs are mostly interested in smelling, who would want to?

Re:Taste == smell (3, Informative)

Politburo (640618) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303360)

Wrong.

The "tongue map" is a myth [wikipedia.org], and there is a fifth sensor, "unami" (MSG), and possibly a sixth for fats.

Re:Taste == smell (1)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303390)

Which parts specifically are wrong? The mapping and the four 'tastes'? Or the whole thing entirely?

LawL (1)

SuperStretchy (1018064) | more than 7 years ago | (#17302966)

The researchers blindfolded college students who crawled through grass to sniff out a chocolate-scented trail.

I would have loved to see that. Its a funny mental picture.

and on his free time... (1)

paulpach (798828) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303000)

When the researcher is not following a trail, he spends his time sniffing butts at a local bar.

Chocohounds (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303030)

Chocolate is a relatively recent invention (bred by South/Western "Mexican" Gulf coasters in the last thousand or so years). And not essential to human survival - though some menstruating women would kill me for saying so.

I wonder what results they'd get with oils from oranges or other citrus fruits. Which humans evolved with, along with our sense of smell, and depend upon for survival (unlike most animals, we don't synthesize vitamin C).

And I'd like to see the differential results for chocolate sniffing sorted by gender, and by menstrual phase for females.

EGADS!!! (1)

StressGuy (472374) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303482)

I'd like to see the results sorted by gender including menstrual phase for males. I mean, based upon your post, it seems like it might just be a survival instinct for the males to find chocolate for their menstrating wives...

you FAIL iT.. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17303068)

OpenBSD. How many fanatic known real problems that conversation and project. Today, as and personal disgust, or been Support GNNA, the mundane chores to the original about 700 users and/or distribu:te And personal a sad world. At available to If *BSD is to 1. Therefore it's are attending a

Old news (1)

OpenSourced (323149) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303084)

a team of neuroscientists and engineers, that demonstrated that humans can follow a scent trail

This team of neuroscientists obviouly never watched my uncle navigating the house floor to unfailingly reach the turkey leftovers, or they wouldn't be losing their time doing silly experiments.

A message to you, human animal (1)

gd23ka (324741) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303102)

Hey furless freak

I just scent marked your pillow. Can you tell my fertility state?

Re:A message to you, human animal (1)

Ingolfke (515826) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303454)

Unfortunately my sense of smell isn't that good... but my powers of deduction are nearly perfect. It's quite obvious from your post that your a flacid blank-shooting loser. That must suck.

Should we be surprised? (0, Flamebait)

tripslash (683760) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303224)

My initial thought to this story was, "Well, duh." We are animals, after all, why should we be so far removed from other animals on this planet?

I think it goes back to that age old concept, or conciet, that humans are specially created by God to be above all other species, which leads to such arrogant and illogical beliefs that we are unlike other animals.

Did our far ancestors track their game only by visual sign (tracks on the ground, etc.) before they tamed the wolves? I don't think so. I know hunters today who can detect scent on the air, and use that sense to aid their hunting. They can't do want dogs can, obviously, but modern man can track a scent to some useful degree.

One of these days, we're going to have accept that we only think we are entirely different from the animals, not that we actually are.

Re:Should we be surprised? (1)

Ingolfke (515826) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303516)

I think I might agree with you. After reading your post it's obvious that the only difference between you and a dog is that a dog doesn't have the sophistication to come up with some type of argument for why it sniffs it's own ass and licks its balls. Bravo my animal friend... bravo.

Anyone else have flashbacks. . . (1)

smooth wombat (796938) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303326)

to the movie, "The Animal" with Rob Schneider?

At least Colleen Haskell would be worth trying to track with your nose.

Feynman tried this (1)

Ambitwistor (1041236) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303346)

The physicist Richard Feynman described in his autobiography his own personal "human bloodhound" experiments. He found that, with little training, he could identify by smell which of a collection of objects had been recently handled. However, upon getting down on the floor and sniffing around, he determined that, unlike his dog, he couldn't follow people's tracks by their scent.

We've known about scent-sensitivity for years (1)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303358)

But a lot of it is subconscious.
Google "human ovulation smell" or scent or whatever. (That should be relatively worksafe, as opposed to, say "sniffing panties" which is how the original research was done, AFAIK.)
Here's a recent article [livescience.com] about how men can tell when women are ovulating.
Here's a lit review [nel.edu] from 2001, discussing just how good humans are at detecting pheromones, unconsciously.
(I can't help but wonder what 'subconscious' means in this sense: if you smell vomit and want desperately to leave the airplane, is that subconscious? is a dog smelling my hamburger and coming over to say hi subconscious? there are lots of areas where behavior is affected by things that a person might not be fully aware of, but if asked might be able to remember -- is that conscious? For instance, when I'm riding my bike down the path and see someone walking along talking to nobody, is it a crazy person or is it a person that's talking on a cellphone? I mostly determine that by some intuitive sense about how the person is moving: lurching around, uncoordinated movement -- but I don't *think* about it. I just know. But afterwards, I have a conscious realization: that person {is|isn't} crazy. Read "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell for more about that.)

Anyway, there have been studies done since the '70's, IIRC, exploring how good humans are at smelling things: slow, but still very good.

smell is swell (1)

swell (195815) | more than 7 years ago | (#17303520)



Smell is swell. It's so sad that people, especially adults, don't take time to enjoy it. There is a good reason, of course. We ignore odor because we have no way to quantify or qualify it. If it represents danger (fire, etc) we respond as best we can, but there is no way to express what we experience.

When we experience colors, for instance, we reach back to a lifetime of shared experiences beginning in pre-school. In the company of others we learned and eventually agreed upon what yellow was about. And red, green, etc. There are some delicate shades of color that we haven't shared with others and we feel doubt about what they should be called. We tend to ignore those colors, particularly in conversations, for fear of ridicule. The truly techy among us may refer to them by their Pantone numbers.

We need a language for describing odors that goes beyond "oh that really stinks!". Wine sniffers have tried for generations to do so, but their effort is more about being trendy than creating a standard for comparison.

Without that language, there isn't much incentive to pick out interesting odors in the envirnment. How would you share them with other sensitive people? So, the scents drift by and something in the back of your mind says 'that's nice', but you are too busy talking on your cell phone to notice.

There are some technical and observant books on the subject, such as "The Nose: A Profile of Sex, Beauty, and Survival" by Gabrielle Glaser, but the best way to dramatize the value and potential of recognizing scent is to read the novel "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" by Patrick Suskind. Afterword, the world will never smell the same.

http://www.amazon.com/Perfume-Story-Murderer-Patri ck-Suskind/dp/0375725849/ref=ed_oe_p/105-0457054-2 894057 [amazon.com]

q: If you didn't have a nose, how would you smell?
a: Terrible!
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