A neuroscientist from Rutgers University says the idea that animals are better at detecting scent is a 19th Century myth. And there’s no scientific evidence that it’s true.
"For so long people failed to stop and question this claim, even people who study the sense of smell for a living,” said John McGann, associate professor at the university’s Department of Psychology, School of Arts and Sciences.
"The fact is the sense of smell is just as good in humans as in other mammals, like rodents and dogs."
Get this: we can pick up on about one trillion different odours! Previous literature reckons we can only detect around 10,000 scents. That’s quite a difference.
How was the discovery made?
McGann has spent 14 years studying scent. And for the past year, he’s delved deep into data to better understand the human scent myth.
So why did we think our sense of smell was inferior to animals?
Because the olfactory bulb (the part of the brain linked with our sense of smell) is smaller in humans. However, McGann has blown that myth out of the water because our olfactory bulb actually has the same or even more neurons than other mammals.
"We can detect and discriminate an extraordinary range of odors; we are more sensitive than rodents and dogs for some odors; we are capable of tracking odor trails; and our behavioral and affective states are influenced by our sense of smell," McGann said.
Why does a strong sense of smell matter?Question is – why does it matter if we have a strong sense of smell?
Well, our smell isn’t just a sense of odour. It also impacts our behaviour, memories, emotions, perceptions, and even our relationships with others. Numerous studies have shown that we may choose our mate because of the way they smell!
It’s also believed that losing our sense of smell is an early warning sign of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other memory problems.