• AChemS Education Corner

More Of The Same

Contributors: Pamela Dalton & Christopher Maute, Monell Chemical Senses Center, Pennsylvania, USA.

Target audience: Ages 6 and older.

Goal(s): To learn how experience with an odor changes the way we smell it.

  • A minty odor source (a mint candy or anything else which smells minty)
  • Mint-flavored chewing gum
  • An opaque jar
  • Paper and pencil
  • With the participants not watching, place the minty odor source in the jar.
  • Ask the participants to smell the odor and rate how intense it is on a scale from 0 to 100;
  • Once done ask them to chew a piece of the minty gum for one minute;
  • Repeat step 2, allowing the participants to smell the jar and again provide a rating.
  • Compare the ratings and show that after repeated exposure, how intense the odor is said to be is reduced.
Take-home message: How much we smell something can impact our ability to smell it later. More experience with a smell will influence how strong we think it is and can also impact other things of our perception, including how much we like the smell.

If you want to read up more on this topic try this scientific paper:
Zufall, F., & Leinders-Zufall, T. (2000). The cellular and molecular basis of odor adaptation. Chemical senses, 25(4), 473-481.