Anxious People may be Better at Sniffing?
Among animals, smell is an important tool for their survival; it helps locate sources of food, identify kin and young, and detect sources of threats as well. Sense of smell in animals was several times more sensitive compared to humans.
In humans, sense of smell is poorly understood and science is just recently uncovering its role. Latest studies confirm that smell is intricately connected to emotions, and that smells evoke powerful emotional responses.
Study and results
14 young adults were recruited to participate in the study. They were asked to sniff three types of odors; neutral pure odor, neutral odor mixture and negative (bad) odor mixture, under an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanner.
Also while scanning, researchers measured the skin’s ability to conduct electricity to gauge arousal level and monitored breathing patterns.
Whilst still under the scanner, participants were asked to rate their current level of anxiety after the odor detection task.
Analysis of brain images shows that while anxiety levels rose, so did the subject’s ability to identify negative odors accurately, which suggests that olfaction becomes quite acute in anxious moments. This conclusion is supported by skin conductance results; which shows that anxiety heightened emotional arousal to smell-induced threats.
Enhanced smell to discern threats
According to the MRI scanner images, negative odors increased activity and exchange between sensory and emotional regions of the brain, particularly when the subject is anxious.
This enhanced smell mechanism, researchers say, may help humans discern threats in times of danger more quickly; like smoke coming from a house fire and gas leaks.
The study is available online in the Springer’s journal Chemosensory Perception.
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