Many have started debates on the subject of the human sense of smell and its alleged inferiority to that of its animal kingdom equivalent. In response, a researcher named John McGann recently released a paper which contradicts this claim. According to McGann, there’s nothing wrong with humanity’s olfactory capabilities. In fact, they may be even better than believed.
John McGann is a neuroscientist part of the Rutgers Department of Psychology Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience Department. He published his new study result in a paper in the journal Science. The researcher based his studies on the comparisons between the human and rodent sense of smell.
“Actually, we have a really excellent sense of smell,” says McGann. “There are quite a lot of experiments showing that the human sense of smell is pretty similar to what you can find with a rat or a mouse or a dog”.
Myth of the Human Sense of Smell and its Origins
So the researcher nosed his way until he found the reported root of this misconception. McGann states that this idea can be traced back to Paul Broca. He is a French neuroanatomist which lived in the 19th century. Broca divided mammals into two olfactory groups according to a set of factors. His division was based on the smell’s importance to the day-to-day life, was it critical for them (dogs, for example) or not (humans)?
His conclusion was that humans did not have to rely on their olfactory sense and that we sacrificed smell for evolution. His idea was then embraced by other scientists, including Sigmund Freud, among others, and its influence has created an actual myth around the human sense of smell.
Some of these claims are based on the fact that people have some 400 distinct smell receptors in their nose. This is less than a half of the 1000 detected in rats. However, McGann argues that “400 is an awful lot”. They can also allegedly help distinguish some “tens of millions of unique smells”.
The battle of the nose receptors has yet to offer a conclusive winner or lead to a consistent response. But as McGann points out, and other researchers as well agree, humans “are best” at detecting some smells, while dogs are better are smelling other odors.
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