Show Details

Nostril Rivalry

September 24, 2009

Our two nostrils may constantly take turns sending different information to our brain.


Intra-nasal independence. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Our nostrils may come as a set, but they’re more independent than we may have thought. This according to Rice University psychologist Denise Chen. She and her colleagues pumped two different smells directly into each of a volunteer’s two nostrils. One nostril got the scent of a rose; the other, that of a felt-tipped marker.

DENISE CHEN (Rice University):
Instead of experiencing a blend of rose and marker pen, they experience an alternation: That is, they smell predominately rose smell, followed by the predominately marker smell.

That implies that the nostrils take turns sending signals to the brain. Chen notes that our brains also integrate separate information from other paired organs, like eyes and ears. So it’s possible, for example, that our nostrils might attend to different components of the same odor, in order to create a complete smell experience. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.