The human sense of smell is quite amazing. We can distinguish the distinctive odour of our blood relations in a room full of strangers, for instance, and we can out-perform the very best mechanical nose in distinguishing between a huge range of scents. But are we using this amazing ability as well as we could?
New research by Endevelt-Shapira and her colleagues, however, suggests we may not be even coming close to maximising our sense of smell – but a drop of the hard stuff can help! In a series of experiments looking at olfactory performance at increasing rates of blood-alcohol content (BAC), the researchers found that our skill at identifying a variety of odours improves after a glass or two of wine. The reasons for this remain unclear, but it seems the effects of alcohol on the brain’s prefrontal cortex plays a significant role. The prefrontal cortex “dampens” our sense of smell under normal circumstances to avoid us becoming over-whelmed with inputs, but this suppression is impaired by rising levels of BAC so our sense of smell improves.
So, next time you feel your partner is wearing a new brand or perfume or cologne, pause a moment – it may be just that glass of Shiraz you’ve consumed and it’s the regular brand after all – useful advice if, like me, you have a tendency to get into those “you never notice what i’m wearing” conversations!