Why do people all over the world love the same scents – or not
Vanilla Hue, Sweaty Feet: Residents of different regions of the world are surprisingly in agreement about what smells and what unpleasant smells like. A current study casts a long-standing assumption about odor into question.
FifthSmells good, sweaty feet are disgusting – people all over the world feel the same way. Contrary to what is often assumed, cultural influences play only a small role in judging smell, according to a report by an international research team at Journal of “Current Biology”. Personal preferences are more decisive in judging – and the chemical composition of the fragrance molecule. It can be used to find out what has been classified as a fragrance and what has been classified as foul.
“We wanted to check whether people all over the world have the same olfactory perception and like the same types of smells, or whether this is something that has been culturally learned,” says Artin Archamian of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. The idea behind the study. “Traditionally, this has been considered cultural, but we can show that culture has little to do with it.”
Perfume samples from nasty to delicious
For their investigations, the scientists had people from ten regions and cultures around the world smell special incense sticks. These included city-dwellers from Mexico and North America, members of hunter-gatherer tribes from the tropical rainforests of Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia, and farmers from the highlands of Ecuador.
A total of 253 people participated. They were given the task of categorizing ten scents – from disgusting to delicious. The results showed differences in odor perception among participants in a regional group, but there was general agreement around the world on odors and odors.
The flavoring substance vanillin, which smells of the vanilla fruit of the same name, was rated as the best. Butyric acid ethyl ester, which is as fruity as a peach or pineapple aromatherapy; Isovaleric acid, which resembles cheese foot, was rated by most participants as the most disgusting smell.
Molecular structure determines the perception of smell
According to the statistical analysis, personal preferences and the chemical composition of odor molecules had the greatest influence on olfactory rating – they explain the differences found about 54% and about 41%, respectively. At about six percent, culture had no effect.
“We now know that there is a universal sense of smell, controlled by molecular structure, and this explains why we either love or hate a particular smell,” Archamian says. “The next step is to investigate why this is, by relating this knowledge to what happens in the brain when we smell a particular scent.”
Perfume is always volatile. Once inside the nose, the odor molecules are detected by receptors on the olfactory cells in the olfactory mucosa. Humans have about 400 different receptors that respond to different chemical structures. The binding of odor molecules to their receptors leads to a stimulation that is transmitted to the brain through the nerve pathways.
There the signals are processed – sniff. Smells are often associated with feelings and memories, so a scent can evoke fear or joy, or it can bring the scent back to childhood, for example. The protective function is often attributed to the sense of smell – substances that emit an unpleasant odor are often toxic.
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