black and white dog with a disguise nose and glasses

Bring fresh cookies to work – and the entire office is there in minutes!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying HOW does the nose know??.

Yuli Wu and researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences have sniffed out a clue.

The team hooked up nearly two hundred volunteers to two tubes that delivered rose or vanilla smells to each nostril. Then the volunteers watched a video of moving dots.

When we smell something, we turn towards it. So, the researchers varied the aroma in each nostril. Turning their heads while watching the dots gave the subjects the illusion of motion. Participants then reported in which direction they felt like they were moving.

What did they learn?

The volunteers couldn’t tell WHICH nostril had a stronger smell. But they knew which side of their head the smell came from. So, next time you’re lost, follow your nose. It might know something you don’t!

No wonder these cookies keep disappearing!

Reference: Y. Wu, K. Chen, Y. Ye, T. Zhang, W. Zhou, Humans navigate with stereo olfaction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 117, 16065–16071 (2020).