Human Olfaction

From Shostakovich’s The Nose (The Royal Opera)

Conventional wisdom tells us that the human nose is hopeless. We are psychologically disconnected from our noses, whereas vision is so much more (consciously) powerful in many everyday situations. However, recent research demonstrates that we should take a step back and reconsider this conventional wisdom. Our noses are subtle enough to distinguish the area in which a wine has been produced (see my work on the smell of terroir). It is capable of learning to become more “sensitive” over time (see my work enhanced odor sensitivity following fear conditioning). Our noses can even unconsciously trigger targeted scanning of the visual field (see my work on eye movements).

The nose is proficient enough to promote positive health-outcomes (as we comment on here and demonstrate in Parkinson’s patients), and guide everyday actions (as we reveal here and here).

Still, more work needs to be aimed at standardizing and comparing odor tests (see my work on the development of smell tests for children) as well as providing a cross-culture assessment to promote large-scale assessment of the sense of smell.

Valentina Parma
Valentina Parma
Research Assistant Professor in Psychology