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Human Smell

May 17, 2017

New research debunks myths about human’s inferior sense of smell.



Surprisingly super-smelling humans. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

We’ve all heard that people are lousy smellers compared to our fellow mammals. But according to Rutgers neuroscientist John McGann, human olfaction is nothing to sneeze at.

McGANN (Rutgers University):

If I were to tell you to, you know, get down on the ground in the park and track something through the park, you’d probably look at me like I was crazy. But you can do it. In fact, my colleague Noam Sobel has a whole – whole line of research where he had undergraduates blindfolded and wearing headphones and padding, and they would track odor.


In the journal Science, McGann writes that humans can detect a million times more odors than was once thought, including some that dogs and other mammals can’t. Smell helps us store and retrieve memories. And while we’re not always aware of it, smell has a profound effect on our behavior, our social interactions, and our emotions. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon