National Geographic : 1987 Oct
Six odors challenged participants Graphics by ALLEN CARROLL NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ART DIVISION Painted by MARK SEIDLER 1. Androstenone (sweat) Occurring in some plants and ani mals, the compound androstenone is also produced by bacteria found in human armpits and appears in our sweat. Men produce greater amounts than women. People frequently dis play an anosmia, or odor blindness, for androstenone, making it of inter est to olfactory scientists. More than a third of the U. S. participants failed to detect it-a trait that is probably inherited. T HOSE WHO TOOK PART The results demonstrated in the Smell Survey widespread "odor blindness" faced two major chal- in the U. S. to two samples. lenges-the first, to detect the Androstenone and Galaxolide odors described below; the could not be detected by 35 second, to identify them percent and 29 percent of par correctly. ticipants respectively. In con Fully half the participants trast, less than 2 percent of the could smell all six samples. At population has some form of the other extreme, the propor- color blindness. tion of people unable to smell The survey also showed that three or more samples was odor blindness-known as relatively small (around one specific anosmia-to andros percent). tenone and Galaxolide are 2 . Isoamyl acetate (banana) 3 . Galaxolide (musk) This familiar scent is known to most Galaxolide was created for perfumers noses as the primary odor note in as a synthetic substitute for the "dark," bananas and pears. It was chosen rich odor of musk, formerly collected to represent the category of food- from the Asian musk deer. While it related odors and also because it is or similar compounds are fundamen often a standard stimulus in scientific tal odor notes in fine perfumes, few research on smell. people have had the opportunity to smell it on its own. As with androsten WOMEN MEN 99.3% 99 .0% one, many people show a specific anosmia to this compound. WOMEN 7A CO/ MEN an -o/ WOMEN 52.8% MEN 49.4% WOMEN Androstenone posed greater prob lems of identification than any other scent. More women than men were sensitive to it but were almost as unsuccessful at identifying it. Of those respondents who detected an odor, most found it musky/urine, many others floral. Among the most readily detected samples, isoamyl acetate was almost as easily discerned by men as by women. Identification proved much more difficult. Galaxolide rivaled androstenone for difficulty of both detection and recog nition. Frequently respondents who failed to detect one of the scents also failed with the other. The difficulty of males in identifying this perfume base created the widest sex-related gap in the tests of scent recognition. Could you smell it? Did you correctly identify odor?