Mechanisms of scent-tracking in humans

Nat Neurosci. 2007 Jan;10(1):27-9. doi: 10.1038/nn1819. Epub 2006 Dec 17.


Whether mammalian scent-tracking is aided by inter-nostril comparisons is unknown. We assessed this in humans and found that (i) humans can scent-track, (ii) they improve with practice, (iii) the human nostrils sample spatially distinct regions separated by approximately 3.5 cm and, critically, (iv) scent-tracking is aided by inter-nostril comparisons. These findings reveal fundamental mechanisms of scent-tracking and suggest that the poor reputation of human olfaction may reflect, in part, behavioral demands rather than ultimate abilities.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Discriminant Analysis
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Odorants*
  • Olfaction Disorders / physiopathology
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Recognition, Psychology*
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Spectrum Analysis
  • Time Factors