The sense of smell, or olfaction, is powerful. Odours affect us on a physical, psychological and social level. For the most part, however, we breathe in the aromas which surround us without being consciously aware of their importance to us. It is only when the faculty of smell is impaired for some reason that we begin to realise the essential role the sense of smell plays in our sense of well-being
AA survey conducted by Anthony Synott at Montreal's Concordia University asked participants to comment on how important smell was to them in their lives. It became apparent that smell can evoke strong emotional responses. A scent associated with a good experience can bring a rush of joy, while a foul odour or one associated with a bad memory may make us grimace with disgust. Respondents to the survey noted that many of their olfactory likes and dislikes were based on emotional associations. Such associations can be powerful enough so that odours that we would generally label unpleasant become agreeable, and those that we would generally consider fragrant become disagreeable for particular individuals. The perception of smell, therefore, consists not only of the sensation of the odours themselves, but of the experiences and emotions associated with them.
A 一项由Anthony Synott在蒙特利尔的Concordia大学开展的调查要求参与者评价一下嗅觉在他们的生活中的重要性。很明显，嗅觉能够唤起强烈的情感回应。某种和愉快经历相关的气味会带米欣喜之感；污浊的气味或与糟糕经历有关的气味则可能让人恶心得面部扭曲。这项调查的应答者们觉察到自身很多对嗅觉的好恶都基于情感联系。这样的联系在强到一定程度时．会让大众普遍不喜欢的气味变得令特定个体愉快，也会让大众公认为芬芳的气味变得让特定个体讨厌。因此，对于气味的感知不单单包括对其本身的感觉，也包括对与其相关的经历和情感的认知。
BOdours are also essential cues in social bonding. One respondent to the survey believed that there is no true emotional bonding without touching and smelling a loved one. In fact, infants recognise the odours of their mothers soon after birth and adults can often identify their children or spouses by scent. In one well-known test, women and men were able to distinguish by smell alone clothing worn by their marriage partners from similar clothing worn by other people. Most of the subjects would probably never have given much thought to odour as a cue for identifying family members before being involved in the test, but as the experiment revealed, even when not consciously considered, smells register.
CIn spite of its importance to our emotional and sensory lives, smell is probably the most undervalued sense in many cultures. The reason often given for the low regard in which smell is held is that, in comparison with its importance among animals, the human sense of smell is feeble and undeveloped. While it is true that the olfactory powers of humans are nothing like as fine as those possessed by certain animals, they are still remarkably acute. Our noses are able to recognise thousands of smells, and to perceive odours which are present only in extremely small quantities.
DSmell, however, is a highly elusive phenomenon. Odours, unlike colours, for instance, cannot be named in many languages because the specific vocabulary simply doesn't exist. 'It smells like. . . , ' we have to say when describing an odour, struggling to express our olfactory experience. Nor can odours be recorded: there is no effective way to either capture or store them over time. In the realm of olfaction, we must make do with descriptions and recollections. This has implications for olfactory research.
EMost of the research on smell undertaken to date has been of a physical scientific nature. Significant advances have been made in the understanding of the biological and chemical nature of olfaction, but many fundamental questions have yet to be answered. Researchers have still to decide whether smell is one sense or two - one responding to odours proper and the other registering odourless chemicals in the air. Other unanswered questions are whether the nose is the only part of the body affected by odours, and how smells can be measured objectively given the nonphysical components. Questions like these mean that interest in the psychology of smell is inevitably set to play an increasingly important role for researchers.
FHowever, smell is not simply a biological and psychological phenomenon. Smell is cultural, hence it is a social and historical phenomenon. Odours are invested with cultural values: smells that are considered to be offensive in some cultures may be perfectly acceptable in others. Therefore, our sense of smell is a means of, and model for, interacting with the world. Different smells can provide us with intimate and emotionally charged experiences and the value that we attach to these experiences is interiorised by the members of society in a deeply personal way. Importantly, our commonly held feelings about smells can help distinguish us from other cultures. The study of the cultural history of smell is, therefore, in a very real sense, an investigation into the essence of human culture.