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Neural Processing of Body Odor

By: Johan Lundström, Monell Chemical Senses Center
Posted: March 18, 2009, from the April 2009 issue of P&F magazine.
Consider the rank odor of the old man perspiring beside you on the bus, the fresh smell of cut grass, the foulness of the passing garbage truck, or the appetizing aroma wafting out of the local bakery. Odors constantly surround us in countless forms, both positive and negative, but few of us stop to think about them. Scientists and laymen alike have long considered humans to be “microsmatic animals,” meaning that for us, the olfactory sense plays a minor role compared to the other senses. However, an increasing number of studies have begun to paint a different picture, one that suggests that olfactory information plays a very significant role in our everyday decisions. This article reviews recent insights into how the human brain processes body odors and the implications this may have for both lifestyle and use of perfumes and personal hygiene products.

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