National Geographic : 1987 Oct
Smell ability differs around the world ... O NEOFTHEMOSTsur prising discoveries of the survey was the varying worldwide reaction to the first scent, androstenone. Prior to examining the inter national returns, we had ana lyzed the responses to androstenone in four major cities across the United States: New York, Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles. For each the percentage that could not smell the compound was almost identical. Wouldn't this genetic trait prove consistent around the globe? To the contrary, responses varied radically from region to region. The illustration below shows the regional percentages of men and women who failed at detection. In each region a majority of participants called themselves white. Why these large differences? Why would responses from U. S. residents vary so widely from those of African residents when the ancestors of most of the respondents came from Europe? Why a significant difference between British citizens and their neighbors across the English Channel? There are so many vari ables. Perhaps people in cer tain regions who had difficulty detecting the scents were less likely to return the survey. Or there may have been environ mental effects on the different populations. We know, for ex ample, that repeated exposure to androstenone can improve the ability to detect it. All these findings are pre liminary; we have just touched on a few of the many questions that await olfactory scientists in the immense body of data collected by the Smell Survey. ASIA 30.0% UNITED KINGDOM 24.1% 25.5% 7/ EUROPE 37.2%° UNITED STATES LATIN NC/ARIBBEAN 29.2% 29.5% WOMEN / Bars show percent of people who could not smell androstenone. Red bars represent women, blue bars represent men. 17.5% 20.9% 17.2'