- On November 11, 2016
If I Can’t Smell My Own Stank Do I Still Smell Bad? Short answer, yes. Not as profound as the ‘if a tree falls in the forest with no one to hear does it still make a sound?’ (it so does) but important. This excerpt from ‘Dear Science’ published by the Washington Post has the answer.
I switched to a more natural deodorant, and I think I smell just fine. But my roommate says the whole apartment now smells like B.O. Could I really be stinking up the place that badly without noticing it? Why don’t we notice our own smell?
Here’s what science has to say:
Sorry you’re (allegedly) stinky. You might not realize it, but there are probably lots of smells you’re used to — including the smells of your own body and its byproducts. That’s why the bathroom always seems way smellier after your roommate uses the toilet. Trust us, they feel the same way.
There are two big components to this phenomenon, and one happens very quickly: We experience smell when molecules bombard receptors in our noses, and if they’re overrun with the same smell for a few moments they’ll tire out. It’s like a refractory period for your nose. That’s why you might think that your roommate’s garlicky meal smells super pungent when you first walk in the front door, but stop noticing it a few minutes later.
“The olfactory system is one of the world’s best difference detectors, and that’s how it was designed,” said Pamela Dalton, a psychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. Your nose helps you quickly detect things that are new and strange, but it has no use for the boring and typical. That’s where more long-term loss of sensitivity comes in: Over time, even if the receptors in your nose pick up on a smell, your brain might start filtering it out as useless information.
Dalton has done studies in which subjects place air fresheners in their bedrooms for a few weeks at a time. Unsurprisingly, after a few days the study participants reported that they no longer noticed the smell when they walked in, and they were less sensitive to the scent when they were exposed to it during visits to Dalton’s lab.