Notes on notes 6

  • September 4, 2013

It's a simple enough idea, or in question form: is there a smell only perceptible by some people but not others? There's one obvious example in excreted asparagus compounds. A wonderful 2016 study by Markt et al found that ~40% of those surveyed were able to detect the (for them, at least) distinctive odor of asparagus urine. Don't miss the wild tongue-in-asparagus-filled-cheek speculation by the authors in their Discussion section.

Are there other scents in this category? Are there some which are more rarely perceived, perhaps by only 10 or 1 percent of the global population? This may be a difficult question to answer unless the sensory difference correlates with something medically relevant, like a concurrent loss of some other ability or function. We could start with schizophrenia: individuals with this condition frequently experience olfactory disruption. There doesn't appear to be any particular odor that's easier for schizophrenia patients to sense. Other conditions, including Parkinson's* and Huntington's disease, have also been found to impact patients' senses of smell.

*Though the supporting results may vary wildly across geographic locations due to different cultural familiarity with types of smells.