09 October 2007

This is so totally from the Captain Obvious File but it is still a topic I find interesting, so...

"Smells can inspire, arouse -- and drive you mad" By Belinda Goldsmith for Reuters

Chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven. Fresh cut grass. Your spouse's natural body odor. Smells can invoke memories, sexually arouse people, or even drive you mad.

Psychology professor Rachel Herz from Brown University in Rhode Island has spent 17 years studying the human sense of smell, finding it is the most emotionally evocative sense and the one most closely tied to mental health and happiness.

In a new book, "The Scent of Desire," she argues Michael Hutchence from INXS, may have been driven into a deep depression after losing his sense of smell in an accident which may have contributed to his 1997 suicide.

"This is a famous rock star who had everything but lost his sense of smell. This, in some people, can trigger a serious depression that gets worse over time," Herz told Reuters ahead of the release of her book this week.

"Smells really can alter and influence our moods and behaviors. There's no question that from a rudimentary survival basis vision is the most important sense for humans but for quality of life it is probably the most important sense."

Herz said she was struck by the importance of smell when acting as an expert witness in a court case for a woman who lost her sense of smell after suffering severe head injuries in a car accident.

The woman, who was aged in her 20's with a good career, explained how losing her sense of smell affected everything in her life from her ability to be a homemaker, to being intimate with husband, to her paranoia about her body.

"That really hit home with me," said Herz.

Over the years, Herz has conducted numerous surveys and tests to gauge the psychological importance of smell.

For while taste is only bitter, salty, sour, sweet and umami or savory, all flavors come from smell, so without smell you can't taste the difference between an apple and a potato, or a glass of red wine and a cup of cold coffee.

Herz discovered you can't smell when you are in a deep sleep which underlines the need for auditory smoke alarms.

She also discovered that people do not have an innate reaction to smell and all responses to smell are learned.

"I was once told by someone she hated the smell of roses because the first time she smelled roses was at her mother's funeral. That has stuck with me," she said.

When it came to gender differences, she found women had a keener nose than men on average.

A survey she conducted in 2002 of 99 men and 99 women found that women ranked how a man smells as more important than anything else in terms of their sexual attraction to him, outranking all social features except for pleasantness.

Men, however, rated how a woman's looks as more important and as second only in importance to a women being pleasant.

"But interestingly women's response to fragrance was equivalent to their response to men's body odor so if a man is wearing a fragrance they like that does the trick," she said.

"Our emotional, physical and even sexual lives are profoundly shaped by both our reactions to and interpretations of different smells."
One thing that has always freaked me out about taste and smell is never truly being able to know what something else smells or tastes like to someone else. For instance, you and I might both like the taste of chocolate cake. But what if chocolate cake to me tastes like what ketchup tastes like to you? What if lemons to me taste like grapes to you? What if vinegar smells like peanuts in my nose? We may both like the smell or the taste of something, but there is no way to know if its for the same reasons or if it tastes the same when it hits our tongues or smells the same when it hits our nose. And that freaks me out; especially imagining what if certain tastes were switched, like colours. What if red to me is blue to you? What if mustard to me is what cinnamon tastes like to you?

The thing about roses is totally true. I never particularly cared for the smell of roses but after a burying my father, and a few other family members right before him, roses just remind me of funerals and hospitals and death and sadness now. To me, roses smell like death and grief. And I think they do to everyone once they've been through that. If you still think roses smell beautiful, its probably because you haven't suffered great loss in your life just yet. So enjoy it because soon it will definitely suck.

I wandered into Bath & Bodyworks yesterday and it was just too much. Fucking pumpkin, apple pie, pecan pie overload. That place sucks. Board it up. Close it down. Their shit is just too over the top. Its like everything in there needs to be watered back down, the scents are just too strong and overpowering; the opposite of pleasant.

***Fun Fact: if something tastes bad, hold your nose, you won't taste anything at all.

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