National Geographic : 1986 Sep
Welcome to NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC'S Smell Survey. With your nose, you areaboutto participatein the largest scientific survey ever undertakenof... The Human Sense of SMELL S MELLS arouse us. Fear, sadness, disgust, longing, love, passion-they're all buried deep in our subconscious, waiting to come rushing to the surface with a single sniff-as with the poet Baudelaire, scenting a woman's hair: Here at thedowny roots of every strand I stupefy myself on the mingledscent ofmusk and tar and coconut oilfor hours ... from whichI gulp the wine of memory. Suppose you hear an alarm bell ringing. You're distract ed, but you don't move from your chair. It keeps ringing. A fire? Probably a false alarm. You peek down the hall, still undecided, hesitat ing. Let's not look foolish, you say to yourself. Butjust get a whiff of smoke, and WHAM! Every fiber ofyour being screams FIRE! Without thinking, you're halfway down the stairs. You're gone. Look at a pencil. Touch a book. Any emotional reac tion? Probably not. But there's nothing quite like an odor to drive your emotions. Our sense of smell is tied di rectly and intimately to the part of our brain most in volved with memory and emotion. Odors powerfully evoke in us the essence of our lives: our feelings. BUT our reactions to an odor largely depend on our experience with it and what our brain remembers. You smell the odor of a varnished hall, and suddenly the past returns, perhaps your high school, a feeling of dread and insecu rity-the bully that day at your locker. To others that same aroma may conjurejoy or anger, as their brains tap different memories and emotions. But often we have diffi culty putting words on odors. We don't so much de scribe a smell, as we express an emotion. "Oh! What is that smell? I know it... it's .. . it's Central High it's that creep Taylor!" Why are some odors, like the smell ofrotten eggs, a universal stink and others, like the fragrance ofjasmine, a pleasure to most people? Why is it that young chil dren are curious about how things smell and don't seem to have an adult's aversion to stench? Why do women seem better atidentifying odors than do men? Some people cannot smell certain odors. Is their loss caused by a genetic disabil ity, like color blindness? Since receptors in the nose constantly replace themselves, how do certain illnesses and injuries cause people to lose their sense of smell? Can it be regained, and how? OF ALL our senses, smell is the least understood. You have probably seen all thecolors you will ever see and heard all the tones you will ever hear. But smell (and flavor, which is mostly smell) seems to have no such limits. And how do you measure it? Scientists have calibrated sound and light waves, so that a piano tuner can make sure that your B-flat keys play B flat, and your oph thalmologist can measure the sensitivity ofyour retina to the color purple. "What happens," asks olfactory scientist Robert Gesteland, "when an odor molecule lands on the nerve receptors in our nose and the brain finally says, 'Ah, fried oysters'? We know practically nothing." THIS SURVEY will help us learn more about smell. The data from your answers will be tabulated on comput ers and made available to the scientific community. NA TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC reaches nearly 11 million members. With your cooperation we will be able to provide science with a sampling of unprecedented size. The survey questions have been designed, and the scents selected, by scientists ofthe Monell Chemical Senses Center of Philadel phia, one ofthe leading institutes of smell and taste research in the world. In a later issue ofthis magazine they will report on the results ofthis survey. Why should you participatein this survey ? * Science needs your help. Little is known about our sense of smell. By participating in this historic survey, you will make an essential contribution to scientific knowledge * You'll have fun. It's not a test you either pass or fail. You may not be able to identify or even to detect all the scents. That information is also important to the survey. * Science will gain, and you will gain. A future NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC will contain a report on the survey results and identification ofthe scents you have scratched and smelled. How do you take this survey ? 1 The survey consists ofa questionnaire attached to six scratch-and-sniff panels. The questionnaire is in two parts. The first part (which is on bothsidesof the questionnaire) asks for in formation about your age, sex, whether you are right or left-handed, and, if you are a woman, whether you are pregnant. Please don't be offended. Our perception of odors may be influenced by our body chemistry, age, sex, and, of course, much more. Your answers will be anonymous. The second part ofthe questionnaire asks for your reactions to the six scent panels. Before beginning r the survey, please be sure you are in a room free of strong odors. 2 Select only one member ofyour family to sniff the scents and answer the questionnaire. A returned questionnaire with reactions from more than one person is worthless. Ask others to wait until you have first scratched allthe panels and recorded your answers on the questionnaire.Then they're free to try their noses, but the questionnaire must record only one per son's answers. 3 Using a coin, scratch * panel 1, and sniff it. Then record your answers on the questionnaire. Do this with each ofthe remaining pan els. Please answer all the questions in both parts of the questionnaire. (Remem ber, there are questions on both sides ofthe survey.) 4 After you have complet * ed both parts of the ques tionnaire, tear it off at the perforation, fold it, and seal it, then mail it by October 1, 1986. Now please unfold the sheet and begin.