Posted on September 24, 2007 • By Rebecca Markowitz
Category: Science Comments Off
Imagine being a part of a study where you have to rate smells on a scale of sweet to putrid. I can only imagine that the participants would never want to step foot into another perfume store ever again. Putting poor noses aside, the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel and the University of California at Berkley have put an end to the mystery of how we perceive pleasant odors versus the not so pleasant variety, by conducting a study that even appeared in the Journal of Neuroscience. Here’s a glance at their findings – notice the surprising insight into the similarity in smell perception between Americans and Israelis:
His [Professor Noam Sobel's] team tested how experimental subjects assessed 50 odors they had never smelled before for pleasantness. They found that the ratings of their test subjects fit closely with the ranking shown by their model. In other words, they were able to predict the level of pleasantness quite well, even for unfamiliar smells. They noted that, although preferences for smells are commonly supposed to be culturally learned, their study showed that the responses of American subjects, Jewish Israelis and Muslim-Arab Israelis all fit the model’s predictions to the same extent. Sobel: ‘Our findings show that the way we perceive smells is at least partially hard-wired in the brain. Although there is a certain amount of flexibility, and our life experience certainly influences our perception of smell, a large part of our sense of whether an odor is pleasant or unpleasant is due to a real order in the physical world. Thus, we can now use chemistry to predict the perception of the smells of new substances.’ Click here to read more details from the study.
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