November 23, 2012

The Nose Has It

A couple of weeks ago, redOrbit reporter April Flowers wrote about how our chemosignals affect our communication. In the report, Flowers discussed the findings of a study completed by researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. The simplified explanation is that through a series of experiments—one where men’s sweat was collected and another where women were exposed to the collected sweat smells—researchers found that the women changed their behavior based on the smell of the sweat. Some of the sweat collected came from men watching fear-causing movies while the other half came from men watching disgust-causing movies. The women changed their behavior based on the fear or the disgust, or the sensory acquisition or sensory rejection, respectively.

Basically, the study found that humans communicate through verbal, visual, and olfactory cues. I feel bittersweet about this. Let me start with the bitter.

I cannot smell. I was born this way, with a diminished sense of smell. I know all the science says that I should then not be able to taste, and to some extent this is also true. However, I can taste some things, particularly potent flavors. I tend to like savory and salty foods over sweet ones because I can taste those. What this means is that I likely can smell on some level, but my brain does not register the scent. So, for all intents and purposes, I cannot smell.

This means that I am not affected by aroma therapy and other scent-based medicinal processes. This also means that I am likely unable to communicate through the olfactory cues that Flowers detailed. The bitter in my bittersweet reaction comes from a solely selfish place; I will probably never feel this connection with other humans.

The other part of my bitter reaction is that I wonder if the researchers studied individuals who could not smell. If they did not, then I wish they would. I wonder how that would affect the outcome, how that would further support their findings. I wonder if those of us who cannot smell compensate in this communication connection and how we might do that.This is just one more instance where I wish I could smell.

Onto the sweet reaction. I am completely fascinated by these findings. First of all, obviously as one who cannot smell, the fact that others communicate certain emotions through scent is incredible. We have long seen how people respond through visual communication, and verbal communication clearly affects us, but now we can consider how our olfactory sense affects our emotions and understanding.

I love that this study shows how truly connected we are by our senses. For me, the sense of smell is one that I long to understand because I do not have one. This study allows me to consider the real impact that smell has on us. I mean, I know that scent affects who we have relationships with, but now we also know that smell affects how we communicate within those relationships. If a particularly odorous individual communicates with us, we may be less affected by the communication because of the sensory rejection.

This is truly fascinating. I thank redOrbit for such an interesting piece. We always have had much to ponder about our verbal (in other words auditory) and visual communication, but now we must also consider the smell connected with communication. The body is an amazing machine. This study further proves that.

Image Credit: Photos.com

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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