Cognition and the Sense of Smell

23rd Jun 2017

The sense of smell is usually perceived as a primitive means of gathering information about your surroundings and has been largely ignored by neuroscientists in the past. However, recently there has been an increase of interest to study human olfaction. The findings challenge our previous beliefs and suggest the sense of smell plays an important role in cognition.

The work of Jay Gottfried, M.D., a neurologist at Northwestern University, and his colleagues, has found a number of ways olfaction influences cognition. It includes familiar smells reducing fearful memories during sleep, rhythmical breathing modulating sensory and emotional perception, and smells resulting in theta oscillations in epileptic patients. All of these results show evidence that the sense of smell has a bigger role than just detecting odours – it also plays an important integrative role in cognition.

Kayt Sukel in her article ‘A Rose by Any Other Name: How our Sense of Smell Influences Cognition’ talks more about our changing judgement of the role of olfactory system. Full article can be found on the Dana Foundation website.

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