Scientists have discovered a new smell, but you may have to go to a laboratory to experience it yourself.
The smell is dubbed “olfactory white,” because it is the nasal equivalent of white noise, researchers report Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Just as white noise is a mixture of many different sound frequencies and white light is a mixture of many different wavelengths, olfactory white is a mixture of many different smelly compounds. ..
In a series of experiments, they exposed participants to hundreds of equally mixed smells, some containing as few as one compound and others containing up to 43 components. They first had 56 participants compare mixtures of the same number of compounds with one another. For example, a person might compare a 40-compound mixture with a 40-compound mixture, neither of which had any components in common.
This experiment revealed that the more components in a mixture, the worse participants were at telling them apart. A four-component mixture smells less similar to other four-component mixtures than a 43-component mixture smells to other 43-component mixtures.
The researchers seemed on track to finding the olfactory version of white noise. They set up a new experiment to confirm the find. In this experiment, they first created four 40-component mixtures. Twelve participants were then given one of the mixtures to sniff and told that it was called “Laurax,” a made-up word. Three of the participants were told compound 1 was Laurax, three were told it was compound 2, three were told it was compound 3, and the rest were told it was compound 4.
After three days of sniffing their version of Laurax in the lab, the participants were given four new scents and four scent labels, one of which was Laurax. They were asked to label each scent with the most appropriate label.
The researchers found that the label “Laurax” was most popular for scents with more compounds. In fact, the more compounds in a mixture, the more likely participants were to call it Laurax. The label went to mixtures with more than 40 compounds 57.1 percent of the time.
Another experiment replicated the first, except that it allowed for participants to label one of the scents “other,” a way to ensure “Laurax” wasn’t just a catch-all. Again, scents with more compounds were more likely to get the Laurax label.
The meaning of these results, the researchers wrote, is that olfactory white is a distinct smell, caused not by specific compounds but by certain mixes of compounds. The key is that the compounds are all of equal intensity and that they span the full range of human smells. That’s why roses and coffee, both of which have many smell compounds, don’t smell anything alike: Their compounds are unequally mixed and don’t span a large range of smells.
In other words, our brains treat smells as a single unit, not as a mixture of compounds to break down, analyze and put back together again. If they didn’t, they’d never see mixtures of completely different compounds as smelling the same
… What does olfactory white smell like? Unfortunately, the scent is so bland as to defy description. Participants rated it right in the middle of the scale for both pleasantness and edibility.
“The best way to appreciate the qualities of olfactory white is to smell it,” the researchers wrote.
It makes sense that too many smells at once would add up to something unique. Here is a video that explains how sense of smell works. When you smell something, the molecules of what you are smelling are physically in your nose. This differs from sight and sound.
There is still plenty to learn about how our sense of smell works. Here are a few interesting things that we do know, adapted from Everyday Health and other sources.
People can detect at least one trillion distinct scents. Scientists thought that the human nose could only detect about 10,000 different smells, but that information was based on a study from 1927 and very outdated. …
Scent cells are renewed every 30 to 60 days. The sense of smell is the only cranial nerve — nerves that emerge from the brain and control bodily functions including eye movement, hearing, taste, and vision — that can regenerate …
You can smell fear and disgust. You can smell feelings of fear and disgust through sweat, and then you can experience the same emotions, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Psychological Science. …
Smell is the oldest sense. Chemodetection — detecting chemicals related to smell or taste — is the most ancient sense, says Malaspina. “Even a single cell animal has ways to detect the chemical composition of the environment. …
The sense of smell is considered 10,000 times more potent than taste. The olfactory response is immediate because of its direct link to the brain. This patch at the back of the nose is the only location where the central nervous system is directly exposed to the environment.
Women have a better sense of smell than men. “Women always are better at odor and smell identification than men, and every study finds that,” …
Age-related loss of smell is linked to race. African-Americans and Hispanics experience loss of smelling related to age earlier than Caucasians, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences. …
Dogs have nearly 44 times more scent cells than humans. “Humans have five to six million odor-detecting cells as compared to dogs that have 220 million cells,” says Luong. ”We have evolved to rely less on our sense of smell, while most animals have retained this sense.” …
Loss of smell may signal future illnesses. “Decreased sense of smell may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease,” …
Each human has their own distinct odor. Like fingerprints, every person has their own distinct odor. The distinct odor you have comes from the same genes that determine tissue type, says Malaspina. …
Hyperosmia is a heightened and hypersensitive sense of smell that has been associated with a number of medical conditions. People with hyperosmia can experience strong discomfort and even illness from certain smells.
75% of people can not smell asparagus urine. In other words, only 25% of people can smell the unique smell that happens to our pee after we eat asparagus.
Females use the sense of smell to find a mate. Females prefer partners with different genes than their own, but not too different according to research. You can’t really fake this, guys. Males also do not have this “superpower” that females do. Recommendation: Go on a hike or other activity where you can sweat together if you are dating. You’re either a match or you aren’t. This is ancient stuff, nothing to do with what you say or wear, etc.
I like a woman who smells like vanilla and cherry chap-stick, but that’s probably due to some early positive experiences. Our sense of smell communicates directly with brain areas that store memories and govern emotions. Smell is a vital part of human well-being, so smell well. What are your favorite smells?