On the scent of a mystery

Date of publication: June 15, 1993


A partial exploration of some of the biological and psychological dimensions of odour is undertaken herein. Metaphor often reveals cultural viewpoints in regard to the senses, and smell - both positive and negative - is frequently characterised thereby (e.g. "The Smell of Success," "My offense is rank," etc.). The human sense of smell seems to have diminished in the evolutionary process, when compared to other mammals. The question is raised to consider if the sense of smell has actually diminished, or whether the processes of socialisation and acculturation have led to active suppression and repression of response to certain ambivalence-provoking odours, for purposes of social safety (such as avoidance of incest, etc.) . The sexual functions of smell are reviewed, and questions in regard to attractiveness are raised. The odour discrimination capabilities of newborns are investigated, and some implications thereof pursued. The continuing interest of humans in "pleasant" as well as 'culturally-specified "unpleasant" odours is used as a basis for some queries and some suggestions in regard to research and commercial applications of key dimensions of odour. The paper ends with some amusing, and some serious, recommendations for research and development.

Joseph A. Precker


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