Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

One Bad Experience Linked To Sniffing Out The Danger

Date:
March 31, 2008
Source:
Northwestern University
Summary:
Each human nose encounters hundreds of thousands of scents in its daily travels perched front and center on our face. Some of these smells are nearly identical, so how do we learn to tell the critical ones apart? Something bad has to happen. Then the nose becomes a very quick learner. New research shows a single negative experience linked to an odor rapidly teaches us to discriminate that odor from similar ones.

Each human nose encounters hundreds of thousands of scents in its daily travels perched front and center on our face. Some of these smells are nearly identical, so how do we learn to tell the critical ones apart? Something bad has to happen. Then the nose becomes a very quick learner.
Credit: iStockphoto/Stacey Newman

Each human nose encounters hundreds of thousands of scents in its daily travels perched front and center on our face. Some of these smells are nearly identical, so how do we learn to tell the critical ones apart?

Related Articles


Something bad has to happen. Then the nose becomes a very quick learner.

New research from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine shows a single negative experience linked to an odor rapidly teaches us to identify that odor and discriminate it from similar ones.

"It's evolutionary," said Wen Li, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center at the Feinberg School. "This helps us to have a very sensitive ability to detect something that is important to our survival from an ocean of environmental information. It warns us that it's dangerous and we have to pay attention to it."

In the study, subjects were exposed to a pair of grassy smells which were nearly identical in their chemical makeup and perceptually indistinguishable. The subjects received an electrical shock when they were exposed to one scent, but not when they were exposed to the other similar one.

After being shocked, the subjects learned to discriminate between the two similar smells. This illustrates the tremendous power of the human sense of smell to learn from emotional experience. Odors that once were impossible to tell apart became easy to identify when followed by an aversive event.

Li and her colleagues also found specific changes in how odor information is stored in "primitive" olfactory regions of the brain, enhancing perceptual sensitivity for smells that have a high biological relevance.

The study will be published March 28 in the journal Science.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Northwestern University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Northwestern University. "One Bad Experience Linked To Sniffing Out The Danger." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 March 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080327172314.htm>.
Northwestern University. (2008, March 31). One Bad Experience Linked To Sniffing Out The Danger. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080327172314.htm
Northwestern University. "One Bad Experience Linked To Sniffing Out The Danger." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080327172314.htm (accessed November 24, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Monday, November 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Newsy (Nov. 24, 2014) A new study links greater authority with increased depressive symptoms among women in the workplace. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Winter Can Cause Depression — Here's How To Combat It

Winter Can Cause Depression — Here's How To Combat It

Newsy (Nov. 23, 2014) Millions of American suffer from seasonal depression every year. It can lead to adverse health effects, but there are ways to ease symptoms. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers find that as people approach new decades in their lives they make bigger life decisions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins