As Jay Gottfried, neuroscientist and senior author of a recent study on the sense of smell put it, “People really dismiss the sense of smell.”
Little research has been conducted on the olfactory sense as compared to the auditory and visual senses. Nasal dysfunctions range from the total loss of smell (anosmia) to dysosmia, a distorted sense of smell. A person with a normal sense of smell (normosmia) is able to distinguish thousands of odors. The olfactory sense allows people to smell the fragrance of flowers and sense the danger of fire because of the smell of something burning.
The study published earlier this month in the journal, Science, suggests that a person with a lesser sense of smell could suffer from disorders such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder [OCD].
Why would this happen? Lead author of the study, Dr Wen Li, of the Feinberg School of Medicine Northwestern University, Chicago, makes things clear. He said that our instinctive ability to discriminate, “from an ocean of environmental information” between cues such as the smell of a 175 kg lion and a 3 kg cat is important for our survival. If someone’s olfactory region does not distinguish a dangerous odour signal from a similar, but non-threatening one, the brain’s emotional fight-or-flight region can overreact leading to exaggerated sensory sensitivity and hyper-vigilance.