Sense of Smell Used for Navigation

A recent scientific study has proposed that we as a species are led by our nose. Scientists involved claim that our sense of navigation is directly connected to our sense of smell.

The study has been conducted on 57 participants which were asked to navigate a virtual town. After the initial run, the participants were tested to see how well they can get from one spot to the other in the least amount of time possible. Another thing that was being tested during this time was the participant’s sense of smell. They sniffed one of the 40 felt tip pens which were infused with different odors. After that, the participants were asked to match the smell to one of the four words shown on a computer screen. What scientists found was that the people smelling the pens and the people that were able to exit the maze the fastest were one and the same.

Scientists believe that this is because of the left orbitofrontal cortex and the right hippocampus being enlarged in the people that performed better on both tests. The orbitofrontal cortex is connected to smelling while the hippocampus has been connected to peoples sense of smell and peoples sense of navigation.

From the study, the nine people that had a damaged orbitofrontal cortex had more trouble in identifying the smells they were presented with. Additionally, they had a harder time in navigating the virtual town on the computer screen.

The theory behind this is that the early humans relied heavily on their sense of smell in order to navigate their surroundings. This theory is better known as the olfactory spatial hypothesis and it has been going around scientific circles for years now. The better a person is at detecting faint whiffs the better they are at finding their way around, and this is probably further connected to their ability to forage for food.

So the next time you sense the faint aroma of pizza from the nearby Italian restaurant, know that it is your survival instinct kicking in.


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