Friday, November 2, 2007

Smelly Facts: Olfaction and Gender Differences

Perfume enthusiasts often marvel at the individual differences that emerge when one person’s experience of a scent is compared to another’s. Our individual perception of a scent is likely tied not only to life experiences that have shaped the way we perceive certain smells, but to constitutional differences as well. One very surprising and important variable that plays a role in olfactory differences is gender. “On the average, women detect odors more readily than men, and the brain responses to odors are stronger in women than in men.” (Doty et al., 1985) Additionally, women are apparently more attentive to smells as well. For example, the smell of a potential partner plays a bigger role for women than it does for men. Furthermore, when repeatedly attending to a particular faint odor, women have the ability to become gradually and progressively more sensitive to it, until they can detect it in concentrations one-thousandth (!) of what they could at the start. (Dalton et al., 2002) However, it must be noted that this effect is not exhibited in prepubertal girls and menopausal women, so this ability seems to be tied to female hormones.

What effects might this increased sensitivity have on the different ways men and women perceive the same fragrance? Are there any implications for professional perfumers? It seems unthinkable, considering the time and enormous effort involved in training a professional nose. On the other hand, according to studies, only women of sexually reproductive age are able to detect faint odors in such minute concentrations as mentioned above. Surely that should make a difference? I realize I am following a controversial train of thought at the moment, and one I am certainly underqualified to make any assumptions on. It certainly is an interesting topic though, wouldn’t you say?

Dalton, Doolittle, & Breslin, 2002
Doty, Applebaum, Zusho, & Settle 1985
Kalat, 2007



italian girl said...

I have an interesting addition to your comments.. When I was pregnant, my sense of smell was INTENSE. I felt like I was in some kind of odor Twilight Zone.
I personally think it is God's way of protecting the woman and unborn child from potentially dangerous food, ex. spoiled meat.
Anyone else experience the same odor sensations while pregnant???
My husband used to think I was crazy when we went to grocery store and I would gag at the smell of the butcher/meat shop area.

Divina said...

That is a very interesting idea, Italian Girl! A friend of mine is pregnant right now and she reports the same: her sense of smell is very very sensitive, to the point that it really bothers her actually. I also read today that women's smell is even stronger when they are menstruating, but forgot to add that to the post...

italian girl said...

So strange. I think women expect to excite or entice men with their perfume.. But, they may not even smell anything. what a waste.
a sales person at sephora once told me that men love ESCADA.. the original.. ughh. yuck.. probably a sales pitch. Anyway, he steered me toward Kenzo..L'eau par de Kenzo.. and that was a huge WINNER. everyone likes that one on me.

If other people can be fashionista's.. I would guess that you (and everyone on this BLOG) could be considered.. Perfumista's...
ciaoo belle ragazze!!!