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  • Perfumers can learn to distinguish individual odors in a fragrance made of hundreds of scents.

  • Tea experts have been known to sniff out not just the location where a tea was from,

  • but the season of harvest and whether it was planted by a plum tree.

  • And the New York City Transit Authority

  • once had an employee responsible only for sniffing out gas leaks in the subway system.

  • Can just anyone learn to smell with the sensitivity of those experts?

  • For most of us, what we smell is largely involuntary,

  • whether it's garbage behind a restaurant,

  • the shampoo of the woman leaving an elevator as you enter,

  • or a bakery's fresh-made bread.

  • With a few million olfactory receptors in our noses,

  • we clearly don't lack the ability to smell well.

  • We just might not always pay close enough attention.

  • That's a shame because we may be missing opportunities to make strong emotional connections.

  • Smells are powerfully linked to emotions

  • and can awaken memories of places we've long ago left and people we've loved.

  • But fortunately, it is possible to train our brains to smell better.

  • For example, Helen Keller was able to recognize a person's work,

  • and in her words,

  • distinguish the carpenter from the iron worker, the artist from the mason or the chemist, by a simple inhale.

  • Follow these steps and you too can change the way the world smells to you.

  • First, stick your nose in it.

  • Some animals that are known to be great smellers,

  • like dogs who can sniff out explosives

  • and pigs who can find truffles underground,

  • put their noses right at the place they want to smell.

  • Human noses, meanwhile, are casting around in the middle of the air,

  • giving us an anatomical disadvantage.

  • So bring your nose close to the world around you.

  • The ground,

  • surfaces,

  • objects,

  • the food in your hand.

  • Get close to your dog,

  • your partner,

  • the book you're reading.

  • Not only will your nose be closer to the odor source,

  • but the warmth of your breath will make odors easier to smell.

  • Second, sniff like you mean it.

  • Smelling actually happens way up near the bridge of our noses

  • in a postage stamp-sized square of tissue called the olfactory epithelium.

  • When we sniff, odor molecules are sucked up into our nostrils

  • until they hit this tissue

  • where they combine to our olfactory, or scent, receptors.

  • When we inhale normally, only a little air makes it there.

  • But one or two solid sharp sniffs

  • will ensure that more air gets to your smell receptors.

  • After just a few more sniffs,

  • the receptors, which are best at noticing new smells,

  • turn off temporarily.

  • So you can give your nose a rest and sniff again later.

  • Finally, dwell on the smell.

  • Most smells pass by us with little attention,

  • but simply noticing what you're smelling

  • and by trying to describe it, name it, and locate its source,

  • you can expand your vocabulary of smells.

  • When an odor molecule binds to a scent receptor,

  • it sends an electrical signal from the sensory neurons

  • to our brain's olfactory bulbs.

  • The signal then continues to other areas of the brain,

  • where it's integrated with taste,

  • memory,

  • or emotional information

  • before registering to us as a smell.

  • FMRI (Functional magnetic resonance imaging) research shows that

  • the extra time spent focusing on scent changes the brain of experienced smellers.

  • For them, perceiving and imagining odors becomes more automatic than for non-experts.

  • To get started yourself, take ingredients from your kitchen:

  • spices,

  • vanilla,

  • or fruit,

  • but never anything toxic.

  • Close your eyes and have someone bring them under your nose.

  • Sniff and try to name the source.

  • Over time, you'll begin to appreciate nuances in familiar odors

  • and recognize characteristics of new and unusual smells.

  • The perfumer has practiced these steps enough to become an artist of odor,

  • but even if you never pursue smelling to that degree,

  • the spectacular result of an unspectacular action

  • will change how you sense and experience your days.

Perfumers can learn to distinguish individual odors in a fragrance made of hundreds of scents.

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B1 TED-Ed smell sniff olfactory odor scent

【TED-Ed】How to master your sense of smell - Alexandra Horowitz

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    Jenny posted on 2017/01/09
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