Research finds that our sense of self can be manipulated by certain smells and sounds.
- Researchers find that there are smells that make us feel thinner and lighter, and other smells that do the opposite.
- The sounds of our footsteps can have a similar effect.
- The researchers suggest that sensory stimuli play a part in our self-image and may be subject to beneficial manipulation.
Lemon, vanilla, and footsteps<p>The research involved two different experiments run consecutively.</p><p>In one, participants were asked to adjust the dimensions of an onscreen 3D avatar so that it best represented themselves as they were exposed to fragrances. A lemon scent caused the subjects to dial in a lighter body weight. A vanilla odor had the opposite effect.</p><p>SCHI lab head <a href="http://www.sussex.ac.uk/profiles/328262" target="_blank">Marianna Obrist</a> tells <a href="http://www.sussex.ac.uk/broadcast/read/49415" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Sussex</a>, "Previous research has shown that lemon is associated with thin silhouettes, spiky shapes and high-pitched sounds while vanilla is associated with thick silhouettes, rounded shapes and low-pitched sounds. This could help account for the different body image perceptions when exposed to a range of nasal stimuli."</p><p>Regarding the second experiment, UC3M's <a href="https://uclic.ucl.ac.uk/people/ana-tajadura-jimenez" target="_blank">Ana Tajadura-Jiménez</a> says, "Our previous research has shown how sound can be used to alter body perception. For instance, in a series of studies, we showed how changing the pitch of the footstep sounds people produce when walking can make them feel lighter and happier and also change the way their walk."</p><p>The current study's authors had headphone-wearing participants walk in place on a wooden board as the researchers manipulated the sound of of their footsteps in the headphones, making them higher in pitch or lower. While walking, they were presented with lemon and vanilla scents. The psychological effect of the fragrance became even more pronounced when combined with the sound manipulations.</p><p>"We based our study on the concept of crossmodal correspondences," Brianza tells <a href="https://www.inverse.com/mind-body/sense-of-smell-body-image-study" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Inverse</a>, "which is the spontaneous and unconscious association between different sensory stimulations [like when people see colors when they listen to music]."</p><p>Says Obrist, "One of the interesting findings from the research is that sound appears to have a stronger effect on unconscious behavior whilst scent has a stronger effect on conscious behavior. Further studies need to be carried out in order to better understand the potential around sensory and multisensory stimuli on BIP [body image perception]."</p><span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b41cfbc7383cdedd0348b1ebd83212a4"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KCno-EtCFOw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
What the heck is going on<p>Brianza says, "Our brain holds several mental models of one's own body appearance which are necessary for successful interactions with the environment." She adds, "These body perceptions are continuously updated in response to sensory inputs received from outside and inside the body."</p><p>Considering that what we know of the world—and to an extent, of ourselves—is based on sensory stimuli, perhaps it should not be completely surprising that we may draw unexpected cues from them.</p><p>In any event, the researchers' findings offer tantalizing early clues that may bear therapeutic fruit when it comes to addressing body issues later on. Will it turn out, for example, that scented garments can help us make kinder, more accurate fitting decisions in olfactorily and sonically optimized dressing rooms?</p><p>Says Brianza, "Being able to positively influence this perception through technology could lead to novel and more effective therapies for people with body perception disorders or the development of interactive clothes and wearable technology that could use scent to enhance people's self-confidence and recalibrate distorted feelings of body weight."</p>
Mice will even run on a wheel in nature. Pheromones help inspire that behavior.
- University of California, Riverside researchers discovered a link between scent and fitness motivation in mice.
- The vomeronasal organ is activated by the smell of pheromones, influencing sexual behavior and cardiovascular activity.
- While there's no proof the same connection exists in humans, at least one elite athlete believes a link exists.
How do we smell? - Rose Eveleth<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a8578bde67fc5b4a70746c49ca3a19cc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/snJnO6OpjCs?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Many animals utilize olfaction to navigate their terrain. Comparatively, humans have a pretty weak sense of smell. For this study, the researchers looked at the vomeronasal organ (VNO), a feature of a number of amphibians and mammals, and its influence on volunteer wheel running (VMR) in mice.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Although the role of the vomeronasal chemosensory receptors in VWR activity remains to be determined, the current results suggest that these vomeronasal chemosensory receptors are important quantitative trait loci for voluntary exercise in mice. We propose that olfaction may play an important role in motivation for voluntary exercise in mammals."</p><p>The team chose fanatical runners that are more intrinsically motivated to get on the wheel than their peers. (The lab that produced this study even has a <a href="https://sites.google.com/ucr.edu/hrmice/home" target="_blank">High Runner Mice website</a>.) Apparently, these mice have strong vomeronasal sensory receptor neurons, which pick up the scent of pheromones (among others) as a form of motivation. </p><p>A link between these neurons and sexual behavior already exists; this study appears to expand the olfactory sense to another physical activity. The chemosensory signals received by VNO activation sets off a chain reaction in their nervous system. Just like humans can't help but dance to a good beat, mice crave the rush of running when the right scent hits them. </p>
Could this apply to humans as well?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg1ODk4NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTY4MzM0N30.N-53oWoMUAPMNa9_ZxeMx6YKFRLhD-k7RzUIK8Bvl2U/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C208%2C0%2C208&height=700" id="f048a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="db26fd2092faab325198afcaf2dc018b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Credit: BillionPhotos.com / Adobe Stock<p>Christopher Bergland thinks so. The elite athlete knows all about treadmills. He holds the <a href="http://www.recordholders.org/en/list/treadmill-bergland.html" target="_blank">world record for the longest treadmill run</a> over a 24-hour period. In a recent column, he claims that <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/202011/need-motivation-exercise-olfaction-is-primal-motivator" target="_blank">scents have been motivating him to exercise</a> for decades.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Even as a middle-aged person with a middle-of-the-road libido, smells from my adolescence—such as classic Coppertone sunscreen mixed with a spritz of vintage Polo Green cologne—still give me a "Vroom!" feeling that gets my juices going. The same smells that I used to run five back-to-back marathons through Death Valley in near 130º heat and to break a Guinness World Record by running 153.76 miles on a treadmill decades ago, still motivate me to go for daily jogs at a 'conversational pace.'"</p><p>He still uses smells to inspire his workout regimen. In his 2007 book, "The Athlete's Way," Bergland discusses aromatherapy as a performance enhancement and motivational tool. This makes sense: we might have devolved in our olfactory senses a bit, but smells still heavily influence our world. Flavor, for example, is <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/experts-how-does-sight-smell-affect-taste/" target="_blank">just as much about smell as taste</a>. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Acquiring information related to scent through the back of the mouth is called retronasal olfaction—via the nostrils it is called orthonasal olfaction. Both methods influence flavor; aromas such as vanilla, for example, can cause something perceived as sweet to taste sweeter. Once an odor is experienced along with a flavor, the two become associated; thus, smell influences taste and taste influences smell."</p><p>We're certainly motivated to eat thanks to the scent of our favorite foods. The idea that smell would get us out of bed and onto a bike is not far-fetched, whether we realize it or not. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His new book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
A new study explores how the brain encodes different scents — a topic which scientists know relatively little about, compared to our other senses.
- Unlike sight and hearing, our sense of smell remains poorly understood.
- In a new study, scientists used machine learning to categorize thousands of different odors based on chemical properties.
- By exposing mice to odors and measuring their neural activity, the scientists found that the brain more closely groups together odors that are chemically similar.
Illustration of multiphoton microscopy
Pashkovski et al.<p style="margin-left: 20px;"><br></p><p>To investigate, the researchers created a database of thousands of odorous chemical structures, and they used machine learning to categorize them by features such as number of atoms, molecular weight and electrochemical properties. These odors were separated into three categories: high diversity, intermediate diversity and low diversity.</p><p>Then the researchers exposed different odors to mice, and used multiphoton microscopy to record neural activity in the piriform cortex and olfactory bulb. The results showed that when odors are chemically similar, so too is neural activity. In other words, the cortex emphasizes relationships between chemically similar odors, and it creates groupings for similar odors, which helps us distinguish between objects in the world. </p>
Smell and neuroplasticity<p>The results also suggest that perception of smell is flexible. For example, the team repeatedly exposed mice to a combination of two chemically dissimilar odors. Over time, images showed that the neural patterns produced by the pair of odors become more strongly correlated.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We presented two odors as if they're from the same source and observed that the brain can rearrange itself to reflect passive olfactory experiences," Datta said. "The plasticity of the cortex may help explain why smell is on one hand invariant between individuals, and yet customizable depending on our unique experiences."</p>
Pixabay<p>The study provides some of the first information on how the olfactory cortex maps different odors. And the results also suggest that, by better understanding the chemical structure of different odors and how that mapping process works, scientists may someday be able to better control our sense of smell.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We don't fully understand how chemistries translate to perception yet," Datta said. "There's no computer algorithm or machine that will take a chemical structure and tell us what that chemical will smell like. To actually build that machine and to be able to someday create a controllable, virtual olfactory world for a person, we need to understand how the brain encodes information about smells. We hope our findings are a step down that path."</p>
Ever want to smell like an astronaut? Now you can!
- After years of trying, a group has produced the smell of outer space in a perfume.
- Astronauts have described the smell of space as similar to "ozone," "gunpowder," and "fried steak."
- Exactly what causes the scent is still debated.
In Space, nobody can figure out what that smell is.<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="zAZNB0yY" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="90e83939c0919d5669cff58bf331cb90"> <div id="botr_zAZNB0yY_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/zAZNB0yY-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/zAZNB0yY-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/zAZNB0yY-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>NASA has been concerned about what space smells like for years, primarily to reduce the surprise to astronauts who go up for the first time. According to Eau de Space's Kickstarter video, the space agency has been using a reproduction of the smell of space for decades.</p><p>In 2008, they asked Steve Pearce, a chemist who founded <a href="https://www.omegaingredients.co.uk/" target="_blank">Omega Ingredients</a>, to help them create the <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/28/us/eau-de-space-fragrance-scn-trnd/index.html" target="_blank">smell for an exhibition</a>, presumably a more difficult task than giving new astronauts a spritz. Now, thanks to what they dub "sheer determination, grit, a lot of luck, and <em>a couple of</em> Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests," the team behind the Kickstarter hopes to bring the scent to the public. <br> <br> Descriptions of what it smells like are all over the place, and include raspberries, rum, "spent gunpowder," hot metal, fried steak, and "ozone."</p><p>For those wondering when you'd get a chance to notice the smell with a helmet on, as is required for spacewalks or moonwalks, the scent follows astronauts as they return from spacewalks. According to a researcher who spoke to <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/07/what-space-smells-like/259903/" target="_blank">The Atlantic</a>, the odor is created by "high-energy vibrations in particles brought back inside which mix with the air."</p><p>As to why it smells like the various things mentioned above, the jury is still out. One <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/what-does-space-smell-like-2016-3" target="_blank">suggestion</a> is that at least some of the particles are hydrocarbons, which can also be found in things like tobacco smoke and car exhaust here on Earth. NASA argues that at least some of the smell is caused by oxidation of these particles, whatever they may be, as they enter the oxygen-rich <a href="https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2006/30jan_smellofmoondust/" target="_blank">environment of the spacecraft</a>. </p><p>The plan is for the fragrance to be used primarily as an educational tool, sparking conversations about outer space in the classroom. To this end, each purchase includes a one bottle donation to a K-12 school. According to <a href="https://www.engadget.com/nasa-smell-of-space-perfume-kickstarter-145104834.html" target="_blank">Engadget</a>, there are currently no plans to mass-produce the fragrance after the Kickstarter ends.</p><p>If you want some, you might want to make that move before the countdown hits zero. </p>
Researchers decoded the love signals of lizards "spoken" through chemical signals.
- Scientists discovered that lizards developed novel chemical communication signals when relocated to tiny island groups with no predators.
- Male lizards began to rapidly produce a new chemical love elixir, not unlike cologne, to call on potential mates.
- With new technology we're increasingly able to detect and identify the chemicals that make up much of the language of non-human nature.
Discovery of lizard love language dialects<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzE2OTMzOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MjA1MjcxMH0.WZUBceriGkgHhb5yza4468TF9aJDvmdJGqW7wVERHgU/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C89%2C0%2C89&height=700" id="a0af5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c6e02aa7dfbb5e8f23aed152fd1e21b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Agios Artemios was one of the islets that a lizard group was relocated to.
Photo Credit: Colin Donihue<p>Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis relocated 12 female and eight male Aegean wall lizards from a single source lizard population in Greece to five tiny islands with no predators. Under these happy conditions, the lizard population proliferated and competed aggressively—evidenced by bite scars—for resources. Researchers tagged each individual lizard so that they could be identified and checked up on over the course of four years.</p><p>As the scientists made visits back to the lizard populations to note how they and their offspring were doing, they made a exciting discovery. On each of the islands, the male lizards had made new chemical cocktails different from the chemical secretions of the lizards in the original source population. The changes had happened rapidly, becoming evident to the scientists after just four generations.</p><p>Could this be evidence that male lizards spruce themselves up with new, au naturale "cologne" when in new ecological settings? The researchers think so, pointing out that having no predators around likely made all the difference. </p><p>"Signals to attract mates are often conspicuous to predators," said Simon Baeckens, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Antwerp in Belgium and co-author of the new paper, in a <a href="https://source.wustl.edu/2020/04/lizards-develop-new-love-language/" target="_blank">university news release</a>. "As such, sexual signals present a compromise between attractiveness and avoidance of detection. However, on these islets, there is no constraint on the evolution of highly conspicuous and attractive signals." </p><p>In other words, with no snakes or other predators to clue in on their prey's potent chemical secretions, the male lizards could let loose on their love signals without worry. </p><p>"In the experimental islands, we found that the 'signal richness' of the lizard secretions is the highest—meaning that the number of different compounds that we could detect in the secretion is the highest," <a href="https://source.wustl.edu/2020/04/lizards-develop-new-love-language/" target="_blank">Baeckens added</a>. </p><p>Though the researchers are still working to decode the signals, they note that previous research suggests that this more elaborate signal may advertise high "male quality" and possibly immune function to both lure females and tell other males to scram. </p><p>"Lizards deposit their chemical messages encoded in secretions from specialized glands located on their inner thighs," reported Talia Ogliore for <a href="https://source.wustl.edu/2020/04/lizards-develop-new-love-language/" target="_blank">Washington University</a>. "The secretions are a waxy cocktail of lipid compounds that contains detailed information about the individual lizard that produced them."</p><p>Lizards are able to collect those chemical messages from their environment by rapidly flickering out their slim, nimble tongues. They process those cues via a sensory organ in the roof of their mouths.</p>