"Our sense of smell is amazing," said Leslie Vosshall, who studies olfaction at the Rockefeller University in New York City. "The whole point of this study is that humans are much better at smelling than we thought."
In addition to the research itself, the study includes the makings of a great sense of smell exercise. The researchers gathered a huge variety of scents and then started mixing them together to make unfamiliar combinations. Study participants were then given three vials at a time - two with the same mixture and the third with a different one. they were then asked to identify the different one. Each participant made 264 comparisons.
You can recreate a version of this at home:
- Get a bunch of dixie cups - say 15 (we don’t need to be quite as thorough as the researchers). Set them up in five groups of three.
- Put a teaspoon of a base liquid with a scent into the three cups of each group - a different liquid for each group of three. Possible base liquids include: any beverage besides water, vinegar or any other liquid with a scent that you would put in your food, or any non-toxic liquid soap or personal care product.
- For each group of three find two more ingredients with a scent (a liquid from the previous list, spices, condiments, etc.) that can be added to the base liquid. Put a small amount of one of the ingredients in two cups and the second ingredient in the third cup. Try to use ingredients that look similar or that will be masked by the base liquid so you can’t see which one is different. You may want to mark the bottom of the third cup to help identify it if you are using similar scents.
- Mix the cups up within each group of three (but keeping the groups of three intact).
- Work your way through each group of three, smelling each cup (use 3-5 short sharp sniffs to inhale the scent into your nose) and identifying the cup that is different.
Let me give you an example:
Do this 2-4 times a week for a few months, tracking your combinations and your performance, and you'll be amazed by the improvement in your sense of smell. Hopefully, you can do this as part of a more comprehensive sensory exercise program.
Have fun and age well!