OUR SENSES & Learning – Smell (#3a)

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Kinesthetic Learners (#2c)

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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, like smoke & poisonous gases, as well as helping to appreciate the full flavor of food & drink.

Olfactory memory plays an important role in many types 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, & happy or dangerous events & places. (MORE….)

Neuro-anatomy supports the idea that our olfactory system is especially set up to ‘understand’ smells. Odor molecules picked up by the nose travel from sensory neurons to the olfactory bulb at the base of the forebrain,  relaying the signal to other brain areas for additional processing.  Smelling is the only sense that doesn’t shunt its data to the brain via spinal cord or cranial nerves.

brain & sensesThe orbito-frontal cortex processes olfaction & amygdala are brain areas critical for assigning emotional value to stimuli.
Smells transmit impulses to areas directly connected to the limbic system, the part that deals with emotions.

So there’s good scientific evidence for the validity of aromatherapy, from studies that examine chemical reactions – of the nerve endings in the nose – to various substances, how that data is conveyed to the cortex & then coded. (“Women nose ahead in smell tests”). (“Smell & the Brain”) // (Essential Oils = scroll to 11/2014)

Other studies tell us 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 eyes & ears which 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, at Rockefeller U (Her NYC talk on Smell vs vision & hearing)

Experiences that connect odors with emotions (learned responses) 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.

Some smells – from food, 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 incorporating both smell & taste, easily distinguishing substances from one another, often connecting a particular smell with a specific past memory

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 this sense is a valuable part of absorbing info, & is especially needed by children with visual impairment or other disabilities.

As smell & taste learning are not usually thought of as scholastically important, most educators have been slow to recognize such students, so their needs are not addressed.
In standard learning settings olfactory learners have trouble concentrating, dislike doing homework, often with low grades in math, reading, & science. They are not stupid or ‘slow’ – they just need a different style of education.  (Olfactory perception in children) (SMELL: Learning & Emotion)

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 indicating nasal needs as early as 1st grade.

SITE: “Effects of diversity in olfactory environment on children’s sense of smell”

NEXT: Smell (Part 2e)