OUR SENSES & Learning – Smell (4d)

 olfactory circuit

Kinesthetic Learners (#4c)

SITEs: Learning styles & Memory (scroll down)
Memory For Different Smells: Synaptic Memory Found In Olfactory Bulb


OLFACTORY Learning (Smell)
Our sense of smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than our sense of taste. In childhood all of us gradually learn which smells are comforting, exciting, scary, yummy… Smell warns us of dangers such as smoke & poisonous gases, as well as helping to appreciate the full flavor of food & drink. Olfactory memory plays an important role in many aspects of human behavior, including mother–infant interactions, food-finding & preferences, emotional states, sexual attraction, & mate choice. Subconsciously we associate smells with things that are important to us, such as family members, and happy or dangerous events & places. (MORE….)

Neuro-anatomy supports the idea that our olfactory system is especially prepared to learn the significance of odors. Odor molecules picked up by the nose travel from the sensory neurons to the olfactory bulb, a structure at the base of the forebrain that relays the signal to other brain areas for additional processing. The sense of smell is the only sense that doesn’t convey its data to the brain via spinal cord or cranial nerves.

brain & sensesThe orbito-frontal cortex processes olfaction, in combination with the amygdala are areas of the brain critical for assigning emotional value to stimuli. Smells transmit impulses to our brain & are directly connected to the limbic system, the part that deals with emotions. So there is good scientific reason for the validity of aromatherapy, which examines the chemical reactions of various substances with the nerve endings in the nose that process smell and how that data is conveyed to the brain and then processed. (“Women nose ahead in smell tests”).

New studies indicate that the average person can detect at least one trillion different smells, a far cry from the previous estimate of 10,000.  No longer should humans be considered poor smellers. In fact we now know the nose can out-perform our eyes & ears, which can discriminate between several million colors & about half a million tones. “It’s time to give our sense of smell the recognition it deserves,” said Leslie Vosshall, a scientist studying olfaction at Rockefeller U .
(Her NYC talk on Smell vs vision & hearing).
So there is good scientific reason for the validity of aromatherapy, which examine the chemical reactions of various substances by the nerve endings in the nose & are then processed by the cortex. (“Smell & the Brain”) // (Essential Oils = scroll to Nov. 2014)

Experiences that connect odors with emotions (learned responses) can explain how odors come to be liked or disliked, as well as how their later presence can call up emotion, influencing thinking & behavior. Olfactory stimulation can change our brain waves & mood in powerful ways. Certain types of smells – such as from food, & chemical smells from air fresheners, perfume & even some essential oils – can interfere with concentration, distracting to the point of inhibiting our brain’s ability to learn something (studying, practicing….). .

EXP: A ‘lucky’ survivor of a devastating apartment fire reacts with some anxiety whenever she smells wood burning from fireplaces in the buildings near hers, or a match being lit, even after 20 years.

perdume creatorWhile these facts apply to everyone, smells have a very special meaning for Olfactory Learners. They grasp info best when they incorporate both senses of smell & taste, often connecting a particular smell with a specific past memory, & can easily distinguish substances from one another. Such learners can be found in Chemistry, Botany, Biology & other scientific/ technical fields (perfume & wine makers, chefs, sommeliers ……)  PICTURE: Jaques Polge, French perfumer, head of Parfums Chanel

Since these people represent a small percentage of the population, there is relatively little info about the importance of olfactory learning, even though these senses are a valuable part of absorbing info, & are especially needed by children with visual impairment or other disabilities.
As smell & taste are not usually thought of as scholastically important, most educators have been slow to recognize these students, so their needs are not addressed. In standard learning settings olfactory learners have difficulty concentrating, dislike doing homework, often have low grades in math, reading, & science. They are not stupid or ‘slow’ – they just need a different style of education.  (“Olfaction & Learner Performance”)

Reyna Panos (Brown U.) writes: “In the early years of educational psychology, children were believed to fall into one of two camps: visual or auditory. Eventually, kinesthetic & tactile learning styles were recognized as well, but to this day nasal learning continues to go unacknowledged.” Panos’s studies suggest that 10-20% of all students fall into this category, children beginning to indicate their nasal needs as early as the 1st grade.

NEXT: Smell & Taste (Part 4e)


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