Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Scents and the Sixth Sense

WARNING: Nose jobs may interfere with your ability to see dead people.

During last Wednesday's Norman Lear Center panel on the "Economics of Attention," David Merkoski dropped a knowledge bomb by bringing up the Vomeronasal Organ and its association with the fabled Sixth Sense.

The Vomeronasal Organ is a olfactory sense organ located in the cartilage of the nose. It's a chemoreceptor organ that detects pheromones, chemicals that elicit behavorial responses in others. For many animals, pheromones trigger explicit behavior such as aggression, mating and/or territorial pissing. But for humans, pheromones are attributed to the more implicit "Sixth Sense;" the feeling that the guy across the room is The One. Or a total creep. Or dead.

The presence of VNO in animals is widely accepted among researchers, but its existence in adult humans is controversial. D. Troiter's paper in the Oxford Journal of Chemical Senses concludes that there is a VNO pit in approximately 92% of adult humans, but there is no concrete evidence of its functionality as a sensory organ. Now, we know that humans can perceive pheromones, and the effects of pheromones on human behavior are well-documented: you may have heard about Claus Wedekind's T-shirt study, or the menstrual synchrony of females living in close quarters. But researchers think these pheromones are perceived by other tissues in the olfactory system, rather than the VNO.

1 comment:

rose said...