It is common belief that women have a sharper sense of smell than men. However, there are separate studies suggesting that the sense is as strong in men as in women. Can women really identify smells better than men? Is women's sense of smell stronger in detecting certain types of scents, like cologne and perfume?
Feminine Smelling Ability Superior
Standard tests establish the superiority of women's smelling ability to that of men in terms of odor detection, discrimination and identification (SIRC, 2012). Women convincingly scored higher than men in these tests. A research said that this capability in females was shown in studied female newborns. But other studies can refute this established finding. A separate study hinted that this feminine capability may be stronger to certain scents but not to others. Female sensitiveness to smell has been demonstrated to be 10,000 stronger to male pheromones during ovulation along with other senses. Another experiment conducted at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem determined if women who held an unrelated infant for an hour would be able to detect their own infant. The hypothesis was almost completely proved. The study concluded that the ability to identify infant's odor is a more universal human skill than previously acknowledged. However, this experiment tested only women. Other studies proposed that both men and women could recognize their own children or spouses by their scent. This was demonstrated by a particular study participated in by male and female participants who were able to detect their spouses' T-shirts from dozens of others (SIRC).
More Evolved Limbic System
A woman has a more evolved sense of smell than a man (Fobbs, 2012). She is more capable of detecting and distinguishing between pleasant and unpleasant smells, danger, memories, feelings, and other sensory data. The lady of the house smells the filth or cleanliness of the surroundings, what is cooking, spoiled food and clean or dirty clothing. When she is ovulating, her sense of smell is even stronger, according to sources. She possesses certain hormones that enable her to. Her sense of taste also becomes stronger when she is pregnant (Fobbs).
Nature endowed a woman with a more capable limbic system, which makes her more emotional when she undergoes hormonal change or smelling aromas (Fobbs, 2012). She also tends to become more depressed on account of certain thoughts, feelings or scents. This distinctive ability comes to play when she is selecting her mate or in a relationship. She is better able to use a potential mate's smell to test if he is the right man for her. At times, she considers that man's pheromone as the signal of his being the right man for her. The Six Senses Magazine says that it is during a woman's menstrual cycle that she uses this hormone in developing a preference for a particular potential partner (Fobbs).
The large difference in the sensory perceptions between the genders is not well-known (Korneliussen, 2012). Sensory panelists conduct tests to obtain data on the objective description of foods' taste, smell and appearance by the genders. The Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research permanently employs 12 women to do the tasting and smelling. This is because, according to Senior Researcher Margrethe Hersleth, women do a better job at tasting salty, sweet, sour and bitter foods. They also outperform men in finding the words to describe the taste. The Institute's manager, Josefine Skaret, says that they hire on the basis of keen senses. She says that they also hire men but choose only the best. She adds that they just hired a male applicant who successfully passed the elimination process. Findings of studies that women outdo men in detecting smells incline them to limit hiring to women (Korneliussen).
Biologist Dag Olav Hessen disagrees to the assumption and argues that more knowledge is needed about the differences and similarities between the sexes to make a conclusion (Korneliussen, 2012). At this point, the differences may only be fictitious and it is, therefore, not necessary to segregate the sexes. He believes that women's traditional role as care persons may have developed sensory advantages in them. They have to know if the food they prepare or about to eat is good or bad. The sexual disparities between the sexes deserve further studies in order to avoid further mistakes. Johan Fredrik Storm, a professor at the University of Oslo's Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, notes another probable difference between men and women and their ability to smell. Women can detect similarity in genes by which they can choose partners with different genes than theirs. He adds that the finding is still controversial and needs further study (Korneliussen).
A Nose for Compounds
A review of available studies on topic shows that women can detect certain smells better than men (Bjorn, 2011). These are compounds, such as acetone or nail polish remover, butanol or the gas smell in sharpie markers, citrus scent in cologne and perfume, ethanol in vodka, 1-hexanol or auto fuel system cleaners, sewer gas, phenyl ethanol in essential oils, dyeing agent for textiles, m-xylene ingredient in plastic soft drink bottles, and roasted food flavoring in coffee. The cross-cultural studies, however, concluded that the feminine capability is only a broad phenomenon at this time. They also said that it is not entirely dependent on sex hormones as the pre-pubescent female children participants also did better than male children. Tests in non-human primates confirm the idea (Bjorn).
Studies, nonetheless, agree that women have a heightened sense of smell during their mid-menstrual cycle when estrogen levels peak (Bjorn, 2011). At this time, they can detect the urinoid smelling odorants, like musks, citral or citrus scent cologne, and some hormones. The capability possibly has biological significance. In the first trimester of pregnancy, sex hormones also peak and influence a woman's sense of smell. A study reported that 67% of pregnant women who participated had high-level olfaction. Another study showed that pregnant women participants with the lowest levels of estrogen before pregnancy had little or unchanged sense of smell. The hormone estrogen is the immediate suspect in these changes, although other body changes can alter levels of smell, such as a rise in HCG and psychological change. Overall available data suggest that sex hormones seem to sharpen a women's sense of smell more than a man's. But further study may reveal more (Bjorn).
Women's Smell Sharper across the Life Span
A recent study conducted among a large female population in Stockholm, Sweden revealed that women of varying ages can identify odors better than men regardless of age (Larsson et al., 2009). The study sought to establish the impact of age and sex on the sense of smell among 1,497 health women aged 35-95 under the Betula Project in Stockholm. Method used consisted of a cued odor identification test and a vocabulary test. The female participants could identify more odors independently of the level of vocabulary proficiency. A factor of note in the study is female superiority in higher-order smelling process in odor awareness. A high or strong familiarity to odors in the environment, odor imagery and olfactory dreams is related to a superior olfactory memory. Varying odor awareness may be another sex difference in identifying odors that should be the subject of future research (Larsson et al.).
A project of the California State Science Fair expected its female participants would do better than the male and the younger ones to perform better than the older ones (Schaefer, 2007). They were asked to smell 5 pharmacy jars, a variety of candies, and paper around the jars. Results showed that 74% of the participants of both sexes guessed the fragrances correctly. The youngest ones scored best of all. It seemed that the sense of smell is stronger in younger years. Female participants detected cinnamon jelly beans, chocolate coffee beans, and the popcorn jelly beans better than male. But the male participants scored better on the peppermint altoids and the bazooka bubble gum. The study concluded that female and male participants performed comparably in detecting fragrances at 74%. Those aged 10 and younger also did better than the 13-year-olds and 20 and older groups. The teens, on the overall, scored higher than adults. The strength of one's sense of smell seems to deteriorate as one gets older and that detection depends on the sample being tested (Schaefer).
An Essential Impetus to Evolution
Olfaction appears to have lost much of its importance to the evolution of tri-chromatic vision and the use of perfumes and deodorants to conceal unpleasant body odors (Bhuta, 2007). It may not be too well-understood but it is involved in mate selection, endocrine regulation, behavioral responses, and the timing of reproduction. Pheromone communication has been known to exist among lower species of animals and especially in the laboratory mouse. Lab studies showed that this type of communication is triggered by the female mouse's menstrual cycle, puberty, and pregnancy. Experiment also showed that pregnancy will be terminated if…