What researchers are learning about the human sense of smell.
Credit: Getty Images/Blend Images

Your sense of smell is better than you think.

According to a new report from a neuroscientist at Rutgers University, humans can smell 100 million more scents than previously thought.

Dr. John McGann concluded that humans are capable of discriminating about one trillion different odors — much more than the 10,000 different odors that “folk wisdom and poorly sourced introductory psychology textbooks” claim.

“We can detect and discriminate an extraordinary range of odors; we are more sensitive than rodents and dogs for some odors; we are capable of tracking odor trails; and our behavioral and affective states are influenced by our sense of smell,” McGann wrote in his paper, published in Science.

The misconception dates back to the late 19th century when Paul Broca, a brain surgeon and anthropologist, claimed that humans’ relatively smaller olfactory area (the part of the body that processes smells) meant that humans had free will and did not have to rely on their sense of smell like dogs to stay alive.

However, the problem with this misconception, McGann said, is that the sense of smell is much more important than many people think. Smells change how we interact, select a mate or choose what to eat. It influences human behavior, memories, perceptions and emotions.

For those who want to put their nose to the test, it’s time to hit the road to discover all 1 trillion scents on the planet. From the lavender fields of Provence to the spices of India, follow where your nose leads.