Do the blind have a more acute sense of smell?

Apr 26, 2010

An ongoing study by Mathilde Beaulieu-Lefebvre, a graduate student from the Universite de Montreal Department of Psychology, has debunked the myth that the blind have a more acute sense of smell than the sighted. Vision loss simply makes blind people pay more attention to how they perceive smells.

"If you enter a room in which coffee is brewing, you will quickly look for the coffee machine. The entering the same room will only have the smell of coffee as information," says Beaulieu-Lefebvre. "That smell will therefore become very important for their spatial representation."

The three-step study tested 25 subjects, 11 of whom were blind from birth. Participants answered a questionnaire and were subjected to two experiments: one where they had to differentiate 16 different perfumes using an olfactometer, another where they lay in a tomodensitometer to identify three smells: a rose, vanilla and butanol (a sweet alcohol).

"There is an urban legend that blind people have better smell than the sighted. We are proving this to be false," says Maurice Ptito, a professor at the Université de Montréal School of Optometry and Beaulieu-Lefebvre's thesis director. "However, the blind do set themselves apart when it comes to cognitive efforts."

Using functional imagery, the team determined that the blind use their secondary olfactory cortex more than the sighted when they smell. They also use the occipital cortex, which is normally used for vision. "That's interesting because it means the blind are recuperating that part of their brain," says Dr. Ptito. "We're not speaking of recycling per se, yet that part of the brain is reorganized and used otherwise."

This research could lead to concrete applications in the re-adaptation of the blind. "For instance, smells are very peculiar in shopping centers," says Beaulieu-Lefebvre. "A hair salon, a pharmacy and a clothing store each have their own distinctive scent. We could easily foresee developing re-adaptation programs for getting around in such places."

Explore further: Religious music brings benefit to seniors' mental health

Related Stories

Traumatic brain injury causes loss of smell and taste

Mar 24, 2010

The ability to taste and smell can be lost or impaired after a head injury, according to a new study by scientists from the Université de Montréal, the Lucie Bruneau Rehabilitation Centre, as well as the Center ...

Swiss scanners to help blind in the kitchen

Feb 22, 2010

Blind people in Switzerland will soon have help telling their ravioli from their tinned fruit in the kitchen as a new loud-speaking device able to decipher 50,000 products was launched Monday.

Recommended for you

Religious music brings benefit to seniors' mental health

Apr 18, 2014

A new article published online in The Gerontologist reports that among older Christians, listening to religious music is associated with a decrease in anxiety about death and increases in life satisfaction, self-e ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

dsl5000
not rated yet Apr 27, 2010
If these people are able to pay more attention on average than a non-blind person, it would appear as if their smell is more acute, no?

FYI neurons in their olfactory bulb/neuron in nose doesn't increase per se, but with so many neuronal connections to other parts of the brain like the occipital cortex, the likely hood of those neurons in the olfactory bulb undergoing pruning is less likely. Maybe they can look into that :)

The study should probably show if the sense of smell is more preserved by blind people vs non-blind over time.
antialias
not rated yet Apr 27, 2010
Uh huh..."We are proving this to be false" with a test group of 25/11 people.

I think not.

More news stories

Less-schooled whites lose longevity, study finds

Barbara Gentry slowly shifts her heavy frame out of a chair and uses a walker to move the dozen feet to a chair not far from the pool table at the Buford Senior Center. Her hair is white and a cough sometimes interrupts her ...

Low tolerance for pain? The reason may be in your genes

Researchers may have identified key genes linked to why some people have a higher tolerance for pain than others, according to a study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 66th Annual ...

How to keep your fitness goals on track

(HealthDay)—The New Year's resolutions many made to get fit have stalled by now. And one expert thinks that's because many people set their goals too high.

Growing app industry has developers racing to keep up

Smartphone application developers say they are challenged by the glut of apps as well as the need to update their software to keep up with evolving phone technology, making creative pricing strategies essential to finding ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.