Archives for category: Smell

Your snout is able to determine over 10,000 different smells using about 500 nasal receptors.

However for some people, smell is but a memory.

They are unable to smell a whiff of anything and this total loss of smell is known as anosmia.

It currently affects around 5% of the US population, which means there are around 16 million people unable to smell leaking gas, smoke, or even worse, themselves (resulting often, undertandably, in some level of social anxiety).

As well as that, they sometimes can’t taste the flavours in food.

Your brain portion that controls smell is located at the base of your skull, so even mild head injuries to the back of the head can result in anosmia, however this is often temporary.

But for those whose smell never returns, hallucination of smells can form in their place where people think they smell coffee, smoke or other alarming substances even when there is none.

Hallucinated smells of a particularly vile smell kind are called cacosmia as described by Bonnie Blodgett in her book ‘Remembering Smell’ where she was plunged into a flurry of terrible smells from rotten eggs to chemicals, mould and sick.

On a more positive note, there have been recent studies to suggest that those who have a good sense of smell are more emotionally sensitive (thought to be because the two areas of the brain related to emotion and sense are in the limbic system), and science has taken steps closer to proving the simple truth that a memory can be triggered by a smell due to the proximity of the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for emotional memory) to the hypothalamus and olfactory tracts (nose!).

So if you can smell the roses, be thankful. Some people are getting noses full of nothing, or worse.

http://www.google.co.uk/imgres?hl=en&tbo=d&biw=1063&bih=580&tbm=isch&tbnid=Qf4Q1xQq7Ouo6M:&imgrefurl=http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-sense/201003/i-hit-my-head-and-i-cant-smell-thing&docid=SJ5eWnXwWl84aM&imgurl=http://www.psychologytoday.com/files/u610/olf.gif&w=338&h=300&ei=2LciUZa7Heqa1AXGooGABA&zoom=1&ved=1t:3588,r:88,s:0,i:351&iact=rc&dur=2350&sig=104541046096363718316&page=7&tbnh=182&tbnw=238&start=79&ndsp=15&tx=179&ty=69

Facts found in Oliver Sacks’ newest book ‘Hallucinations’.

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Imagine hearing colours, feeling sounds or tasting shapes.

If you look at the letter ‘4’ and see the colour “green” or have a relationship between the sound of a car horn and feel a pain in your right leg, or smell jasmine when you see a triangle, you could be a part of the less than 1% population who experience Synaesthesia.

Synaesthesia is basically a mash up of senses. A synaesthete receives the same sensory information as you or I, but somewhere in their somatosensory cortex (the parts of your brain that receive sensory information from your body parts) and association areas (the part that is involved in complex mental processes eg forming perceptions), they process the information differently and thus they experience an altered perception – or an altered state of consciousness.

Parts of a synaesthete’s brain when looking at a letter register a letter and a colour at once.

Neuroimaging studies using PET and fMRI demonstrate significant differences between the brains of synaesthetes and non-synesthetes. The degree of white matter connectivity (white matter being the fat that coats the grey nerve cells) in the fusiform gyrus correlates with the intensity of the synaesthetic experience. There is some dispute over the functionalities of the fusiform gyrus, but it is generally accepted that it is involved in:

  1. processing color information
  2. face and body recognition (see Fusiform face area)
  3. word recognition
  4. number recognition [questionable: may only be as a result of a global response of any generic recognition tasks, further statistical evidence needed]
  5. within-category identification

Some famous synaesthetes you might know include French poet Baudelaire, Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt and Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, who was said to hear tones and chords as he painted; for example yellow was the colour of middle-C on a piano or a brassy trumpet blast. For him, the combinations and associations of colours produced vibrational frequencies akin to chords played on a piano.

Famous novelist Vladimir Nobokov wrote that he associated the letter ‘r’ with a senstion of ‘a sooty rag being ripped’, while the letter ‘a’ he associated with weathered wood.

Needless to say, it helps in the creative process!

For more information on the sensory clashes go to http://www.uksynaesthesia.com/.

Thank you to Wikipedia, and ‘Psychology 2’ by Burton, Westen and Kowalski.

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