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Just Follow Your Nose!

By: Rick Ruffolo
Posted: November 1, 2011, from the November 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

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The past decade has seen a flurry of research into the influence of scent on a person’s experience.

Although some of the studies may have been somewhat self-fulfilling in design, the overwhelming conclusion from both academic and commercial organizations is clear: scent matters. The science is there. You’ve probably read about it, and frankly, it’s pretty cool. Only our olfactory sense works directly with the brain’s limbic system, where emotion and memories are controlled. One example, in the medical field, IFF has partnered with hospitals in Europe to use scent to help trauma patients recall memories and restore brain function.

Biologically speaking, the olfactory sense played a critical evolutionary role in early human survival by helping our ancestors sense dangers that they could not hear, see or touch.

Super Sense

Essentially, evolution has led all of us to share a super-powered olfactory gene pool that has survived the dangers facing early humans. A well-known study by the Fragrance Institute determined that people can recognize 10,000 distinct odors; that is a simply staggering statistic. It also has been recorded that people can recall specific smells a full year later with nearly 66% accuracy. For perspective, this type of recall dwarfs our ability to remember images (photos/pictures). In fact, one study showed human’s image retention to be less than 50% after only three months.

In this year of blockbuster Hollywood superhero movies, isn’t it unfortunate that our unsung olfactory ability (our “super sense”) is not highlighted? X-ray vision is a well-known superhero trait, but why don’t superheroes use their “superior sense of smell”? I guess it’s safe to say that Thor’s hammer, his long hair, and his powerful sculpted abs have sold significantly more movie tickets than theaters would have been able to sell if they had focused more on the olfactory acuity of his Norse nose.

More Than Science—It’s Emotion