Smell: Underestimate

Watch any dog following a scent, and it’s obvious that the sense of smell in canines is a much richer experience than it is in people. But scientists say that the human sense of smell is more highly developed than we think — and may be leading us around by the nose. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont.

Stuart Firestein of Columbia University is a leading expert on the sense of smell.

“The biggest problem with our sense of smell is that our noses are stuck five and a half feet up in the air, but all the good smells are within about a foot of the ground. If you look at a dog that catches a scent, you see its nose go right to the ground. We unfortunately have our noses stuck up here in the air, where they’re good for holding our glasses on but they’re not very good for coming into contact with all those really good odors.”

We tend to take our sense of smell for granted, until we lose it.

“There are conditions in which people lose their sense of smell and people who suffer from this complain bitterly that their quality of life has been truly destroyed. They no longer enjoy foods and their nutritional quality often goes to zero. This is a big problem, by the way, among the geriatric population, because we do of course lose our sense of smell as life goes on. Also people report that sex is no longer interesting or as interesting because there’s a component of it that they describe as seeming to be missing, it’s not quite clear what but it’s somehow missing. And finally people without a sense of smell quite often suffer from lack of sleep and paranoia, interestingly because they’re constantly worried that they’ve left the gas on or that there’ll be a fire, and this constantly vigilant early warning system is now gone.”

According to Firestein, if you want to know how important smell is to human beings, just consider all the products we buy that make our towels smell like lemons and our bathroom like pine forests.

Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation.

Smell: Underestimate

Human beings tend to underestimate their sense of smell, but experts say our sense of smell is more highly developed -- and more important -- than we think.
Air Date:05/24/2000
Scientist:
Transcript:

Watch any dog following a scent, and it's obvious that the sense of smell in canines is a much richer experience than it is in people. But scientists say that the human sense of smell is more highly developed than we think -- and may be leading us around by the nose. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont.

Stuart Firestein of Columbia University is a leading expert on the sense of smell.

"The biggest problem with our sense of smell is that our noses are stuck five and a half feet up in the air, but all the good smells are within about a foot of the ground. If you look at a dog that catches a scent, you see its nose go right to the ground. We unfortunately have our noses stuck up here in the air, where they're good for holding our glasses on but they're not very good for coming into contact with all those really good odors."

We tend to take our sense of smell for granted, until we lose it.

"There are conditions in which people lose their sense of smell and people who suffer from this complain bitterly that their quality of life has been truly destroyed. They no longer enjoy foods and their nutritional quality often goes to zero. This is a big problem, by the way, among the geriatric population, because we do of course lose our sense of smell as life goes on. Also people report that sex is no longer interesting or as interesting because there's a component of it that they describe as seeming to be missing, it's not quite clear what but it's somehow missing. And finally people without a sense of smell quite often suffer from lack of sleep and paranoia, interestingly because they're constantly worried that they've left the gas on or that there'll be a fire, and this constantly vigilant early warning system is now gone."

According to Firestein, if you want to know how important smell is to human beings, just consider all the products we buy that make our towels smell like lemons and our bathroom like pine forests.

Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation.