Common scents and the psychology of smell

Nerve has a brief but interesting interview with psychologist Rachel Herz who talks about her research on the sense of smell and how it can influence our mind and behaviour.

I’ve not encountered Herz’s work before but it turns out she’s done a great deal of scientific research on the psychology and neuroscience of smell and has just written a book, The Scent of Desire, which seems to present the science of smell in an accessible format.

The interview contains a number of gems, but this particularly caught my eye:

Why do we grow accustomed to odors, but not to something like sound? In other words, why is the stench of garbage outside my apartment nowhere near as distracting as the drilling?

When we experience olfactory adaptation, the receptor literally stops responding to a chemical in the air after about twenty minutes. We adapt to all the sensations that are out there, but when the drilling starts and stops, your attention focuses on it and you’re irritated.

Smell is a fascinating area, perhaps because it is relatively unstudied (especially compared to vision).

We previously covered an interesting review article that talked about the fact that the brain has two smell networks – something that came us a complete surprise to me.

Link to Nerve interview with Rachel Herz.
Link to more info on The Scent of Desire book.

3 Comments

  1. Laura
    Posted March 25, 2008 at 1:20 am | Permalink

    The interview seems a little low on science, particularly the part where the author posits perfumes as a reason for modern women’s problems conceiving. Because perfume and fragrance and scented oil hasn’t existed for hundreds, thousands of years — Oh, wait.

    • Tom Krause
      Posted October 9, 2013 at 5:33 am | Permalink

      I don/t know where Laura is coming from but perfume and fragrant oils have been around since the birth of Christ.

  2. Rodrigo Bammann
    Posted April 4, 2008 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Hi there,
    Most of these informations are already known, but since I like this sense, I wanted to write something here, if you don´t mind. =]
    The smell is one of the first senses in Animal Kingdom. Therefore is one of the most complex we have (passed through many small modifications). Also, something I like, in some animals (like snakes and horses), they have the Vomeronasal organ, which is not presented in humans. But I personaly think we still have its neuronet. Also, I think our retronasal smell system is this remained net.
    Well, anyway is really an interesting sense. Usefull as well!
    Cheers!


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