Vintners, for instance, might want to rework traditional terminology and develop an updated language library, rethinking wine’s traditional flavor and smell descriptors in order to help tasters improve their sense of smell.
How learning influences smell
The smell of an odor is not merely a result of chemical detection but is also influenced by what the smeller learns about the odor.
Now, researchers have discovered how such “perceptual learning” about an odor influences processing of information from the purely olfactory chemical detection system. Wen Li, Jay Gottfried, and colleagues at Northwestern University reported their findings with human subjects in the December 21, 2006, issue of the journal Neuron.
“Verbal context strongly influences the perception of odor quality—a rose by any other name would not smell as sweet,” explained the researchers. “For example, the same odorant smells entirely different depending on whether it is labeled as fresh cucumber or mildew.”