Have You Gone Nose Blind?

Have you seen the ads for the air freshener Febreze? The ads suggest that we are “nose blind” to some of the smells in our own homes. That is, we don’t notice any ordinary smells in our homes, but other people do. Have you ever been away on vacation then come home and noticed a scent in your home you didn’t notice before? I have, so I wondered if the Febreze ads were correct and that nose blindness is a real phenomenon, and apparently it is.

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Pamela Dalton has been studying nose blindness for more than 20 years. She is a cognitive psychologist with the Monell Chemical Senses Center and she has an explanation for why we go nose blind.

According to Dalton, when you introduce a new scent into your home, your odor receptors pick up the new odorant molecules and send the information to your brain’s olfactory bulb which is part of the limbic system. If the scent is understood by the brain to not be dangerous, such as a pleasant scent as opposed to a “dangerous” scent such as a fire or rotting meat, then the nose receptors shut off. When the nose receptors shut off, the scent becomes less intense. The theory about this is that the scent is not dangerous so the brain does not need to pay attention to it. After a while you become less and less aware of the non-dangerous scents in your own home. The theory continues that this would allow you to more easily pick up on a dangerous scent if you needed to, like a bleach spill, a toaster fire, or rotting food.

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Dalton explains that hearing is the closest sense we have to smell that mimics how we can go nose blind. For example, those that live near a train track will eventually become accustomed to the sound of the train and not notice it anymore. That is because the brain perceives the sound as not being a threat. This is known as sensory adaptation and part of how humans adapted to their environments for survival.

There are ways to overcome nose blindness. One is to exercise vigorously. This increases blood flow and helps the nose pick up on familiar smells once again. Another way is to worry more about smells. This fear regarding a smell will interfere with the sensory adaptation of smell.

So if you want to know what your house, apartment or dorm room really smells like, you can: go away for a week, go do some exercise, or start to worry about the smell.   When you finally figure out what your living area actually smells like to everyone else, and if it is disagreeable, you can succumb to the marketing of Febreze.  How genius to market their product in such a new way! It’s not so your environment smells better for you and your family, it’s to save you and your family from the embarrassment of having a smelly home!

 

 

 

 

 

8 thoughts on “Have You Gone Nose Blind?

  1. David Tyler Bond

    This phenomenon is very interesting. During high school sports, Our football team used to travel to another school that was surrounded by farms. When the bus got close the school, we could automatically notice the smell of cow manure and other repulsive smells associated with farms. We talked to student from that school and they said that they didn’t even notice the smell because they were so used to it. In my opinion, that’s an awful smell to get used to.

  2. Caitlin Emily Whelan

    Wow this is so funny!! I always noticed that every time I walked into my best friend’s house, her house had this distinct smell to it. It did not smell bad it smelt almost like comforting. I loved it and wondered why my house did not have a special smell! But every time she came over, she would say, “it smells like your house in here”, and I would be so confused. I am also very aware of smells. I always wear perfume and scented lotions and my friend will smell something like an article of clothing and be like “this smells like you.” I guess all my questions have been answered! Did you know that you cannot smell your own perfume? I read about it on hyperlink code 🙂

  3. Kaylen Kim

    I find this very interesting because I’ve always been very self-conscious as to whether I or my belongings smell to other people. I think it is because I grew up in an Asian country where the food is considered a little more “exotic” and can smell a little funkier than Americans are used to, so I tend to worry a lot about whether I smell weird to other people. I used to not be that way but I think since high school I started feeling very self-conscious about what I smell like. So every time I have Asian food at home, I make sure I open the windows to air the smell out, change my clothes before or after eating; sometimes if I’m about to eat something that smells particularly strong I would even wear a shower cap to keep my hair from picking up the smell. But even then, I would still worry and think “I think I smell fine but what if I’m just nose blind and can’t smell what other people can smell off of me?” Now that I know how to overcome nose blindness, I won’t have to be so worried anymore !

  4. Samantha Elizabeth Schmitt

    Finally an answer to this! Whenever I would go to my friends house or borrow their clothes, I could smell their “scent”. We would always talk about each other’s scents, but not being able to smell our own. I would espiecally notice it with friends who have dogs (my sister is allergic so we could never have one). Some houses would smell very strongly of dog, yet the family who lived there wouldn’t notice. And I always thought it was so weird. But now I know why. I think it will be interesting coming home to my house on Thanksgiving break (this will be the longest time I have been away from home) and I will finally know my family’s “scent”.

  5. Samantha Elizabeth Schmitt

    Finally an answer to this! Whenever I would go to my friends house or borrow their clothes, I could smell their “scent”. We would always talk about each other’s scents, but not being able to smell our own. I would espiecally notice it with friends who have dogs (my sister is allergic so we could never have one). Some houses would smell very strongly of dog, yet the family who lived there wouldn’t notice. And I always thought it was so weird. But now I know why. I think it will be interesting coming home to my house on Thanksgiving break (this will be the longest time I have been away from home) and I will finally know my family’s “scent”.

  6. Anastasia Skold

    Every time I walk into my dorm room I smell my air freshener. I know that when I was home, I never could smell what my house smelled like, but my friends could. So I wonder if because we’ve only been here for a couple weeks if that’s why I can still smell my air freshener.

    I use Bath and Body Works wallflowers. You can find them here.

  7. Katherine Alexandra Bartkowski

    Exercise vigorously? Who would have thought that would make your nose better at what it does. Very interesting and intelligent what Febreze is doing.

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