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What Makes a Better Smeller?

Around the world, people differ in their ability to perceive and name odours. When considering this variation, the emphasis is often on olfactory dysfunction and loss. In this review paper we take a different perspective, and consider the factors which make a person a better smeller. What can we learn if we focus on what human olfaction can do and what it is good at, rather than focusing on where it fails? We dismiss common myths of who is a better smeller. For example, contrary to popular opinion, the weight of evidence suggests women are not better at detecting or discriminating odors, and blind people are no better smellers than seeing folks. At the same time, we shed new light on cases where there is evidence for superior olfactory abilities, such as in odor-color synaesthesia and wine experts. Moreover, studies show that mere exposure to odors can be enough to enhance your olfactory abilities, and certain environments and cultures can boost these experiences further. Our biology, experiences, and environment all influence the ability to smell. Rejecting the view of olfaction as a weak sense, this paper outlines how to exploit the olfactory potential of all people.

Majid, A., Speed, L. J., Croijmans, I., & Arshamian, A. (in press) What makes a better smeller? Perception

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