Do the blind have more acute sense of smell?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

TORONTO - Vision loss simply makes blind people pay more attention to how they perceive smells, a new research said, debunking the myth that the blind have a more acute sense of smell than the sighted.

“If you enter a room in which coffee is brewing, you will quickly look for the coffee machine. The blind person entering the same room will only have the smell of coffee as information,” said Mathilde Beaulieu-Lefebvre, psychology graduate student at the Montreal University (MU).

“That smell will therefore become very important for their spatial representation,” said Beaulieu-Lefebvre.

The three-step study tested subjects, some of whom were blind from birth.

Participants answered a questionnaire and were subjected to two experiments: one where they had to differentiate 16 different perfumes using an olfactometer, another where they had to identify three smells: a rose, vanilla and butanol (sweet alcohol).

“There is an urban legend that blind people have better smell than the sighted. We are proving this to be false,” said Maurice Ptito, professor at the MU School of Optometry and Beaulieu-Lefebvre’s thesis director.

“However, the blind do set themselves apart when it comes to cognitive efforts.”

This research could lead to concrete applications in the re-adaptation of the blind. “For instance, smells are very peculiar in shopping centres,” says Beaulieu-Lefebvre, according to an MU release.

“A hair salon, a pharmacy and a clothing store each have their own distinctive scent. We could easily foresee developing re-adaptation programs for getting around in such places.”

Filed under: Science and Technology

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