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Are People With Sensitive Noses More Empathetic?

Are you cursed and blessed with a good sense of smell? Cursed because you smell every ungodly stink no matter how far away, and blessed because lovely smells affect you deeply?

Psychology professor Denise Chen at Rice University thinks you may also be more empathetic than your olfaction-challenged neighbor.

Sense of smell and emotions come from the same area of the brain (the limbic system), and Chen set out to test their connection. In an experiment with 22 pairs of dorm-dwelling women, Chen asked them all to sleep in identical t-shirts. The next morning, she presented each person with three t-shirts: one worn by her roommate, and two others worn by other people in the dorm. The women who were able to identify their roommates' t-shirts by smell alone also scored high in emotional tests.

"The olfactory brain overlaps with the emotional brain," said Chen, "and is believed to have contributed to its evolution." Do you have a good sense of smell or wish you did?

Image Source: Getty
Join The Conversation
AujahAcorn AujahAcorn 7 years
Sometimes I think my life revolves around what I am smelling. I live in a really nice smelling area so long deep breaths are regular for me. I also have a lot of empathy. sometimes its to much to handle.
GlowingMoon GlowingMoon 7 years
Interesting. I have a really good sense of smell, too. In fact, my husband's natural scent was the first thing that attracted me to him. It works the other way, too. I've written-off men who smelled "off" to me (they had no offending body odor. I just didn't like the way they naturally smelled. I think it's body chemistry thing.) And yes, I do have a lot of empathy. I consider this a weakness. LOL
Yogaforlife Yogaforlife 7 years
I have no sense of smell! I live in a world of no odors although once in a blue moon I'll have a day where I can smell odors (if they are strong) and it grosses me out. My husband jokes he is the luckiest guy because as long as he makes no noise, he can fart all he wants and I never know. On days when my nose is clear and I can smell, I often surprise him because I'll walk into a room that he has been "lighting" it up in and I'll start asking what stinks and he gets all embarrassed.
Autumns_Elegy Autumns_Elegy 7 years
I have a good sense of smell, but I don't think I'm any more emotional than the next person.
divinedebris divinedebris 7 years
I consider myself to have a pretty good sense of smell but I wouldn't say it's fantastic or anything. I am emotional but I'm socially awkward and have a difficult time being empathetic towards people, sometimes I feel like an robot when I'm dealing with people because I don't understand what's wrong with them. So, don't know where I fall on this.
cambrianoelle cambrianoelle 7 years
That's so funny, I went to Rice and took classes with Dr. Chen. I even participated in one of her studies (not this one in particular). Awesome!
mrsld mrsld 7 years
I couldn't disagree more! I have worked around perfumers for most of my career. Some of the best "noses" in the business are the least empathetic people I have ever met.
Kimpossible Kimpossible 7 years
I'm with khameel. I find this fascinating. I too am both blessed and cursed with an incredibly sensitive sense of smell, and I've always been a very emotional and empathetic person. Very interesting.
kulikuli kulikuli 7 years
I'm blessed with a great sense of smell, but i love it. The ability to enjoy the subtle changes in the air, and even the heightened sense of taste, and i LOVE food, so i have to thank my big, super sensitive nose lol. And i never thought about it before, but i am pretty empathic. I'm not very emotional myself, but i'm very empathic towards others.
khameel khameel 7 years
I am both blessed and cursed with a fantastic sense of smell, so I find this study really interesting! It does make sense, though. I am extremely emotional when it comes to other people. I guess I am rather empathic...
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