The role of scents
As you read this, your brain is flooded with sensory perceptions. You can probably give an accurate description of what you are seeing and hearing right now. And what do you smell? Chances are you now realize that you don’t actually smell anything. But is that really so? Why are we unaware of the smells around us most of the day, and how important is our sense of smell, in fact?
- An old ?? sense
- Development of the sense of smell
- Appreciation of scents
- Scents in the subconscious
- Loss of sense of smell
An old ?? sense
The sense of smell originated early in evolution, as evidenced by the limited number of connections to the newest parts of the brain (the neocortex), which are responsible for cognitive functions. This in contrast to, for example, sight and hearing, which explains why signals from these senses keep us much more occupied. The limited connection to the neocortex is also reflected when we try to express smells in words. While vision and hearing sensations can be described in detailed terms, the scent of a rose is difficult to characterize. This is due to the weak connection between the sense of smell and the language center in the neocortex. Fragrances are therefore not produced with a unique scent vocabulary. described, but mainly with terms derived from the characterization of taste sensations (sweet, fruity, etc.).
Development of the sense of smell
The early evolutionary origin of the sense of smell is also reflected in the early disposition of this sense in embryonic development. Probably our first sensory perception is the smell of the amniotic fluid. The sense of smell is the first sense that develops in the embryo, but it has a long maturation period. Man only has the greatest sense of smell when he is in his thirties.
Appreciation of scents
Although scent signals have a minor influence on cognitive functions, there are strong brain connections to parts of the brain responsible for feelings and emotions (the limbic system). Scents therefore determine our sense of well-being, which is especially noticeable in babies. The scent of the mother has a calming effect; a piece of clothing worn by the mother is enough to calm a crying baby. Even at a later age, being surrounded by familiar body odors ensures that people feel safe and comfortable.
Scents can be experienced as pleasant to a greater or lesser extent. While for certain smells it can be said that there is a general aversion (the most extreme example is probably corpse smell), for other smell sensations the appreciation can vary considerably. For instance, the cocktail of scents in which one is surrounded in a perfumery is experienced by one as pleasant, while another may be disgusted by it. Personal taste has a major influence on this, but factors such as habituation and experiences can also play a role. The sense of smell has a strong association with memory: we can recognize smells that we have not smelled since our early childhood. For example, it is possible that the smell of cigars, which for many is characterized as stench, is experienced as pleasant on nostalgic grounds.
Age also influences the way in which a fragrance is valued. Children are more tolerant of certain smells perceived by adults as “dirty”. are labeled. Once in our lives, a general shift in the appreciation of smells takes place during puberty. During this period, certain fragrances are found to be pleasant quite abruptly, including pheromonic substances like androstenone and musk, which young children usually dislike. Pheromones are signal substances that are probably derived from sex hormones. The way in which these fragrances are experienced is therefore probably related to the sexual development that takes place during puberty. Other substances, such as vanilla and strawberry, become comparatively more unpleasant during this period. During puberty, girls also develop a better sense of smell than boys. Be for this estrogens (female hormones) responsible.
Scents in the subconscious
When entering a building, we are usually equally aware of the smell that hangs there. However, it soon seems as if you no longer smell it. The underlying cause is called the process habituation, which means that the brain distinguishes between essential and non-essential information. Insignificant sensory information is not passed on to higher brain functions.
Smell sensations are therefore usually not converted into conscious perception. However, unconscious perception does take place, and this is where the greatest importance of the sense of smell is expressed. Due to the strong connections with emotion and motivation-regulating parts of the brain, an odor perception can be directly converted into an action, bypassing a mental judgment. In life-threatening circumstances, such as gas smell, the sense of smell provides an immediate flight response. It also protects against eating spoiled food.
Loss of sense of smell
After the fiftieth to sixtieth year of life, a process of loss of smell takes place, until eventually we can no longer smell anything. Given that scents are strongly related to the sense of well-being, it can partially or completely lose the sense of smell (anosmia) have serious psychological effects, possibly leading to depression.
Although the world of smells is filtered by our brains as irrelevant information for most of the day, the ability to smell appears to be important for the (psychological) functioning of humans. The sense of smell is therefore of essential value, but it is logical that we are usually not aware of it. After all, being active in the unconscious is the nature of the sense of smell.