Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Smelly Web Indexes: February 28, 2010


For the week ending February 28, 2010

The Solo Blog Index

Close: 99 
Change: -13 
Big movers: PinkManhattan +9%, AyalaSmellyBlog +7%, FirstNerve +6%, Olfactarama -131%, MaisQuePerfume -16%, BitterGraceNotes -13%, GrainDeMusc -8%, PerfumeShrine -7%, AnyasGarden -6%

The Team Blog Index
Close: 120
Change: -1 
Big movers: none 

The Corporate & Community Site Index
Close: 31
Change: -4 
Big movers: OsMoz -7%

Summary

A down week on all three indicators, led by a 13 point drop in the Solo Blog Index. Overall the SBI had 13 losers and only 5 gainers. The index was pulled down by Olfactarama which posted an eighth consecutive weekly decline and dropped 131% in one of Alexa’s periodic sudden downdrafts. Adding to the pain were MaisQuePerfume which reversed five consecutive up weeks with a substantial drop, and BitterGraceNotes which sank for the fourth consecutive week. On the positive side, PinkManhattan extended its rise to a fourth straight week and FirstNerve notched an eighth consecutive uptick.

The Team Blog Index continued its sideways trajectory of the past seven weeks; none of its sites moved more than 5% .

The Corporate & Community Site Index found itself at a new record low of 31—like all the indexes it started life on August 9, 2009 pegged at 100. This week’s 4 point drop was due to Osmoz which lost 7% in its eighth consecutive down week. Sniffapalooza slipped 1% in its fourth straight weekly decline.

The Long View

Our weekly report always displays the most recent seven weeks of activity on the Smelly Web Indexes. Every so often it’s worth taking a longer view—back to the beginning nearly seven month ago. 


A few things jump out from this chart. The Corporate & Community Index has been on a long, steady decline since mid-September 2009. In the same period the Team Blog Index has held steady in a narrow range, while the Solo Blog Index has declined somewhat since peaking in mid-December.

Why the difference in trends? Some of it can be attributed to the intrinsic nature of the sites. Blogging is time-intensive and team blogs can sustain a higher frequency of posting and comment reply than solo blogs—both factors which keep Alexa rankings high. But by the same logic, corporate and community sites should enjoy an even bigger advantage; yet their rankings are sliding. Does this reflect a slackening of interest in fragrance as a topic, or are readers finding these sites less compelling? You tell me.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Scented Billboards Big Hit with UK Consumers


And if they really like it, they’ll pee on it.

Related: Is there anything scent detection dogs can’t do? Apparently not.

Some Skin in the Game



If from a neuroscientist’s perspective smell is the least understood of the senses, then from a perfumer’s point of view skin must be the least understood of the organs. We wear scent on the skin and it is from this biological surface that we judge a perfume to be an aesthetic success or failure. As a substrate for the perfumer’s creativity, skin is what wood panels, canvas or watercolor paper are to the painter. The biology of skin may determine why a perfume evolves differently on different people. One would think that the fragrance industry knows a lot about the interaction of skin and scent, but one would be wrong. What little is known is gleaned from studies aimed primarily at other topics.

Skin is also the broadcast medium for a range of endogenous bodily odors. These intrinsically human scents reflect emotional state, diet, sex, and genetics. One might think that by now scientists have thoroughly catalogued these odors and analyzed their function. But again, one would be wrong. As several recent studies show, we are still discovering unexpected aspects of human skin scent.

Take the glands of Montgomery for example. (Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of them.) Montgomery’s glands are found in the areola of the female nipple; they look like goose bumps and are anatomically a combination of sebaceous and lactiferous units. They become conspicuous during late pregnancy and lactation. Beginning after parturition they exude a fluid that is distinct from breast milk. The function of this fluid has been something of a mystery since W.F. Montgomery first described the areolar glands in 1837.

French psychologist Benoist Schaal is an expert in the olfactory cues that draw a newborn baby to its mother’s breast. He and his colleagues have focused increasingly on the role of Montgomery gland (MG) fluid. In a new paper, they demonstrate that 3-day old infants respond selectively to these secretions. Newborns turn their heads and make mouthing movements when presented with MG fluid collected from nursing mothers. They also show changes in heart rate and respiration, presumably in response to volatiles in the MG fluid (curiously, the fluid has almost no detectable odor to adults). 

Compared to human breast milk or cow’s milk, MG fluid provokes quicker and more intense orienting behavior. Finally, bottle-fed infants show the same behavior as breast fed babies, indicating that the response is in-born and automatic, not learned. Schaal’s team thinks they have the key to the mystery: MG secretions are a specialized scent signal that guides the infant to the mother’s nipple and promotes successful nursing. (Hint to new moms: don’t go overboard with the wet-wipes before feedings.)

The skin scents that make us human also make us a target for insects, notably Anopheles gambiae, the African mosquito that transmits malaria. It is well known that mosquitoes home in on carbon dioxide, ammonia and L-lactic acid (a breakdown product in human sweat). Another set of molecules—aliphatic carboxylic acids such as propionic, butanoic and pentanoic acids—were thought to be part of the BO bouquet that attracts mosquitoes. But which ones and in what proportions? Finding the answer could greatly improve the effectiveness of scent traps and reduce the incidence of potentially infectious bug bites.

In a new paper, a large international research team describes how they methodically varied the combinations and concentrations of CO2, ammonia, L-lactic acid and seven aliphatic carboxylic acids to come up with a synthetic human scent that, under some conditions, is even more attractive to mosquitoes than the real thing. The team tested the synthetic lures in the field in a village in southeastern Tanzania. The optimized odor blend was more attractive than human scent when the two samples were set up in huts located 10 to 100 meters apart. When mosquitoes had to choose between sample in close proximity in the same hut, the synthetic lure no longer had an advantage. Still, bait stations strategically located outside a village could draw significant numbers of insects away from homes in the village.

From a chemist’s point of view, human BO is extremely complex. What’s remarkable here is that a human scent realistic enough to draw mosquitoes can be built with nine simple molecules. (That simplified “aroma models” can provide high fidelity olfactory impressions of complex odors is a theme I develop in What the Nose Knows.)

Finally, a provocative new study in the Journal of Forensic Sciences takes the power of the minimalist odor model even further. A group at Florida International University did extensive chemical analysis of volatile compounds in the scent collected from the hands of volunteers. From the 37 different molecules identified, the researchers selected 24 that were common to set of ten volunteers. Using the relative proportions of these 24 molecules the FIU scientists could identify individual hand-scent samples with high accuracy. This means that in principle a standard set of volatile compounds could provide personal BO “bar codes” searchable in a computer database. Welcome to the world of olfactory biometrics.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Smelly Web Indexes: February 21, 2010


For the week ending February 21, 2010

The Solo Blog Index
Close: 112
Change: +6 
Big movers:  JaimeleParfum +45%, PinkManhattan +9%, Vetivresse -26%, GrainDeMusc -14%, MimiFrouFrou -10%

The Team Blog Index
Close: 121
Change: +3
Big movers: NowSmellThis +8%

The Corporate & Community Site Index
Close: 35
Change: +3 
Big movers: TheDryDown +6%

Summary

An up week on all three indexes. The Solo Blog Index rose 6 points as JaimeleParfum came roaring back from last week’s big loss. We have reluctantly delisted Tuileries as it went a second consecutive week with no measurable Alexa ranking. In the absence of numerical data we can no longer keep the site on the SBI. We wish blogger AlbertCan all the best. The SBI has been recalibrated to reflect the 18 remaining solo blog sites.

The Team Blog Index took back last week’s 3 point loss, led by an 8% rise at NowSmellThis.

Led by a nice gain at TheDryDown, the Corporate & Community Site Index picked itself up off the canvas following last week’s spectacular 38 point collapse. Sniffapalooza, which was the big mover in that event, slid another 1% this week. 

Friday, February 19, 2010

Airborne Trifecta: Fat, Smelly & Rude

Silent Bob gets kicked off a plane for being too fat. Berry Gordy’s entitled grandson gets booted for being an belligerent ass-hat. And some anonymous guy gets deplaned for having vile BO.

Flying is the new Greyhound.

“Other people shouldn’t have to marinate in your feculence.”  Indeed.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Quick Sniffs

Is perfume like beef, pork, milk and eggs? That’s what Yale Hollander asks as he sizes up the Fragrance Foundation’s late entry into cooperative marketing.

You’ve tried all the flavored vodkas and you’re sick of icky appletinis. Where do you turn? To California, of course, where artisan distiller Lance Winters is collecting plant material to flavor a new gin: “a Joaquin Miller blend that would evoke the bay laurel, cedar and fennel found in the Oakland hills.”

Make a note, Taj. Celebrity fragrance mania sets a new low: Van Wilder is the new Hugo Boss.

Hide the children—it’s a not safe for Father’s Day fragrance. Then again, Heather’s two mommies might like it too.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Music, Scent and Times Gone By


A pair of quasi-random events remind me of the link between music and scent. Olfacta posted an article by Brian Eno (from Details magazine, circa 1992) about his fascination with scent and its sensory analogies with music.

Then comes news of the death of Doug Fieger. Doug who? Well, for those old enough to have dropped quarters into a juke box let me just say . . . My Sharona.

The significance of this annoyingly catchy pop tune is twofold. First,
It was credited for ending the reign of the ‘70s disco queens, as it was the first rock song to bump a disco track from number one in several years.
Secondly, it was based on Fieger’s girlfriend who, among her other qualities,
“had an overpowering scent, and it drove me crazy.”

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Pouring Cold Water on the Raging Reptilian Brain

In today’s Boston Globe, writer Courtney Humphries does a nice job describing recent research into how smells affect us. She finds that the traditional emphasis on mood and emotion is giving way to explanations that involve cognition. Sound familiar? It should.

Best of all, she goes the entire article without mentioning a certain French novelist. Hurray!

The Smelly Web Indexes: February 14, 2010


For the week ending February 14, 2010

The Solo Blog Index
Close: 106
Change: -7 
Big movers: MimiFrouFrou +10%, MaisQuePerfume +9%, FirstNerve +7%, JaimeleParfum -29%, GlassPetalSmoke -18%, *Tuileries -12%

The Team Blog Index
Close: 118
Change: -3
Big movers: NowSmellThis -8%, PerfumedaRosaNegra -6%

The Corporate & Community Site Index
Close: 32 
Change: -38
Big movers: Sniffapalooza -63%

Summary
A down week on all three indexes. The Corporate & Community Site Index delivered the biggest news of the week, dropping a shocking 38 points as Sniffapalooza cratered 63% to its lowest level since the CCSI began in August 2009. [According to our pre-index records this is Sniffapalooza’s lowest Alexa ranking since January 2009.] Is something going on or will the site bounce back next week? Stay tuned.

The Solo Blog Index shed 7 points on a steep decline at JaimeleParfum and an 18% drop at GlassPetalSmoke which follows last week’s 26% drop at that site. Tuileries gets an asterisk because it literally fell off the charts: below ~24 million Alexa no longer provides a numeric ranking. This data quality issue puts Tuileries at risk of delisting from the SBI. Since the site has encountered rock-bottom levels before and recovered, Tulieries gets a reprieve; this week we substituted its previous lowest ranking which pegs this week’s performance at -12%.

Finally, the Team Blog Index lost 3 points, continuing a downward drift from last week.

UPDATE February 16, 2010

The Sniffapalooza people tell me their traffic hasn’t plunged—in fact it’s better than ever according to their stats. This may be one of those inexplicable rank changes that seem to happen periodically with Alexa. We’ll see. 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I Smell Dead People: Brass Monkey Edition


It’s the middle of February and in much of the country cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. Perhaps that has something to do with the record low number of ISDP cases this month. They are so scarce we had to stretch the rules to include the first one.

Our standard is that a foul odor sets off the chain of events leading to the discovery of the deceased. A police department “wellness check” is usually disqualifying as it implies that suspicion has already been aroused by non-olfactory clues. However, we decided to go with this item because the opening sentence, by Florida Times-Union reporter Scott Butler, is a classic:

A routine wellness check for Fernandina Beach police turned into a strange and morbid discovery Thursday morning.
The incident occurred at the Buccaneer Villas on Lime Street in Fernandina Beach, just below the Georgia state line on Florida’s Atlantic coast. When 36-year-old Warren P. Straniti answered the door officers smelled a foul odor. They found the remains of his 46-year-old female “roommate” who had been missing for a week.

An autopsy failed to find “any evidence of injury or trauma.” Straniti has so far been charged only with failure to report a death and is in jail with bail set at $500,000.

[Note to First Nerve Committee on Prizes: list Straniti as a possible 2010 Norman Bates Award nominee.]

In January, this time at an apartment complex in Tallahassee, Florida, a foul smell led residents to a container near the laundry room dumpster, where they discovered the remains of a newborn baby. Police are questioning a woman they believe is the mother.

Any readers planning a trip to London? Check out the new Bloody Queen Mary feature at the schlocky London Dungeon tourist attraction—now featuring the recreated smell of burning Protestant martyrs!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Crime Blotter: Weird New Jersey


First Nerve Manor stands a mere ten miles from the New Jersey Meadowlands, a featureless expanse of dreary marshland dotted with industrial warehouses, big box retailers and fast food outlets. It’s home to Teterboro airport, a general aviation field where private jets routinely skid off the runway and which Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger famously declined in favor of an emergency landing in the Hudson River. It’s home to Giants Stadium—the new one scheduled open next season as well as the old one, now being demolished, where the remains of Jimmy Hoffa are said to be buried under one end zone and where drunken Jets fans routinely badger women to “show us your tits.”

Deep in the heart of this charmless area, in the neighborhood of ImTech Graphics, Beta Plastics, and the Yoo-Hoo Chocolate Beverage Corporation, is a perfume distributor called In Style USA LLC. It trades in such high-end brands as Hermès, Calvin Klein, Dolce & Gabbana and Versace. Yesterday evening, before the big snowstorm blew in, In Style USA was robbed in a most unusual manner.

Marlene Naanes and John Gavin of The Bergen Record have the story:
Authorities have arrested two Brooklyn men in a brazen Tuesday night heist in which five armed men stormed into a Gotham Parkway perfume warehouse and tied up 11 employees, forcing them into an office, police said.

. . . the alleged robbery team bound the workers hands behind their backs with plastic ties before forcing them into the office. The crew then backed up a box truck — one of at least six they brought with them — to the warehouse, where day laborers hired in the Bronx began loading perfume products.

The day laborers, allegedly under the direction of Morales, loaded four trucks that left the scene with perfume products before one of the warehouse employees was able to call 911 about 9:30.

Most of the armed men fled before police arrived, [Detective John] Cleary said, but officers found 15 day laborers locked in one of the trucks that were left behind.

. . . Police estimate the value of the stolen fragrances at $50,000.
What can you say? Like all of New Jersey this is wrong at many different levels.

Catch you at Rutt’s Hut and we can discuss it over rippers and a Coors.

Through the Looking Glass


CNBC.com gives a gloomy rundown of the fine fragrance market. Here’s change in sales versus previous year (data from NPD):
2007     -1% 
2008     -6%
2009   -10%
Ooof!

According to CNBC sales have “languished” since 9/11 and “dropped precipitously” in the current recession, dealing “a body blow to the industry.”

Ouch!

Tough times. So how does the industry’s supreme flack respond?
“The recession just kind of put the last nail in the coffin, to put it bluntly,” said Rochelle Bloom, president of the industry’s trade group, The Fragrance Foundation.
Hunh? I thought trade groups were supposed to talk their industry up, not down.

Bloom drives a few more nails into her employer’s coffin. Fragrance, she tells CNBC, gets “a bum rap” because many people believe it is “unacceptable” in the workplace, it is “bad for the environment” and that it triggers “allergies.”

Is this a super-tricky ninja PR move to stun the fragrance facists by repeating their own propaganda back at them? No, it’s the launch of new industry-wide promotional campaign.
The “One Mighty Drop” campaign is striving to remind people that it can be “part of the emotional heartbeat,” Bloom said. 

Indeed, scents can trigger powerful emotions and help people recall certain memories. It is that emotion that the industry is hoping to tap into with its tagline “One Drop Changes Everything.”
Powerful emotions—like rage, grief, anger, fear? One drop changes everything—like blotter acid, Botox, dendrobatid toxin?

As the Red Queen said, “Take a minute to think about it, and then guess.” 

Alice found a cake labeled “eat me” and a bottle labeled “drink me”. Now, the Fragrance Foundation gives her a bottle labeled “spritz me” and hopes for the best.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Smelly Web Indexes: February 7, 2010



For the week ending February 7, 2010:

The Solo Blog Index

Close: 113
Change: +1 
Big movers: IndiePerfumes +42%, FirstNerve +12%, AnyasGarden +11%, Vetivresse -33%, GlassPetalSmoke -26%, AyalaSmellyBlog -26% 

The Team Blog Index
Close: 121
Change: -2
Big movers:  PerfumedaRosaNegra -7%

The Corporate & Community Site Index
Close: 70 
Change: +8 
Big movers: TheDryDown +14%, Sniffapalooza -7%

Summary

Huge volatility in the Solo Blog Index this week: steep declines at Vetivresse, GlassPetalSmoke and AyalaSmellyBlog offset by a massive increase at IndiePerfumes and solid gains at FirstNerve and AnyasGarden, resulting in a one point uptick in the SBI. PerfumeSmellinThings was the only gainer on the Team Blog Index which sank two points. The Corporate & Community Site Index bounced back big time from two consecutive record lows, driven by a large gain at TheDryDown.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Pee-yew! Epic Fail of Waterless Urinals in Chicago


They’re ripping out the “eco-friendly” waterless urinals installed in Chicago’s City Hall only four years ago. Why? Because the smell of backed up urine was drifting into the City Council chambers.

What caused the urine to back up?
“While we don't know for certain, anecdotal evidence has pointed to the heavy traffic, combined with the disposal of additional liquids, such as juice, coffee, etc. being poured down the urinal drain that caused issues that were unforeseen,” [Environment Department spokesman Larry] Merritt said.
Guys pouring coffee down the urinal? Who could possibly have anticipated that?

In fairness, City Hall’s problem—that the urinals were connected to copper drain pipes which corroded and blocked outflow—may be specific to that building. But judging from my experience at Newark airport even properly installed waterless urinals are remarkably stinky. Of course, nothing says “welcome to New Jersey” like a bad smell in baggage claim.

Then there’s this:
In 2005, five waterless urinals also were installed in O’Hare Airports Terminal 2, only to be removed three months later.
Hmmm . . .

The “green” urinals in City Hall were the brainchild of Mayor Daley’s “chief environmental officer” Sadhu Johnston. And what does he have to say about the problem? Well, nothing! He quietly slipped out of town last September and is now deputy city manager of Vancouver, WA.

See you, Sadhu--and as they like to say up North: Piss off!

Popping Corks in the Chem Lab: The Molecular Analysis of Wine


When it comes to figuring out at the molecular level why things smell the way they do, there is no better scientific source than the quaintly titled Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry

Published by the American Chemical Society, the journal’s very first issue—in April of 1953—included the paper “Atmospheric odors, their effect on flavors of stored foods.” Authors Amos Turk, P. J. Messer and Arthur Blaskiewicz reported that air purification with activated charcoal significantly reduced the off odors that otherwise migrate into foods stored in a smelly environment. It’s a topic as relevant now as it was fifty-seven years ago.

Today’s journal reflects the revolution in fragrance and flavor analysis achieved by gas chromatography—mass spectrometry in the mid-1970s. (See? It wasn’t a totally lost decade, Jimmy Carter and leisure suits notwithstanding.) It’s were I found my WTNK material for the aroma similarities of lychee fruit and Gewurztraminer wine, the freshness (or not) of Moroccan sardines, and the characteristic smell of Asian fish sauce.

Recently, three new papers caught my eye—all having to do with wine. The first, by a Belgian research team, examined the molecules responsible for the changes of aroma in Sauternes as it ages. Sauternes from the 2002 and 2003 vintages, donated by Château Guiraud, were tracked through March 2009 by old fashioned sniffing and a battery of technology: gas chromatography—olfactometry (GC-O), aroma extract dilution analysis, gas chromatography—mass spectrometry (GC-MS), and (best of all) gas chromatography—pulsed flame photometric detection.

So what did they find? Well, a bunch of the polyfunctional thiols (sulfur-containing molecules like 3-sulfanylpropyl acetate) that give young Sauternes “the distinctive citrus nuances of young botrytized wines” are lost during the first year in the bottle. Other key odorants were still present five to six years after harvest, including fermentation alcohols like 2-phenylethanol and molecules such as vanillin, eugenol, and β-damascenone, which arise from the wine’s maturation in oak barrels. There was also α-terpineol which gives Sauternes its varietal aroma and sotolon, last noted hovering over the New York metropolitan region and triggering false medical diagnoses in the Middle East.

You don’t have to be a chem geek to be fascinated by this: now we know the whys and wherefores of how Sauternes changes character in the bottle. That’s just cool. And it hardly detracts from the allure of the wine or the joy experienced in the drinking of it. The perfume industry should be taking notes. (Yes, Rochelle Bloom, I’m talking to you.) 

The second JAFC paper is by a French team who looked at low-concentration chemicals responsible for the berry notes in red Bordeaux wine. (These days fruity white wines are all the rage, but compounds associated with fruity aromas have been detected in reds as well. Berry notes in wine include red and black cherry, plum, black current, raspberry and strawberry.) 

The French team, led by Bénédicte Pineau, fractionated various reds using methods designed to preserve as much of the fruity character as possible. They used GC-O and GC-MS analysis to identify the responsible molecules, and then spiked de-aromatized wine with specific chemicals to reconstruct the fruity aroma profiles. They found that “black berry” aroma was associated with higher levels of ethyl propanoate, ethyl 2-methylpropanoate, and ethyl 2-methylbutanoate. “Red berry” aroma was linked to ethyl butanoate, ethyl hexanoate, ethyl octanoate and ethyl 2-hydroxybutanoate.

All good and quite informative. But what really grabbed me were the odor threshold results. Most of the red- and black-berry aromas in Bordeaux were present at levels below those detectable by the human nose; nevertheless they contribute to the fruity character of the wine. It’s a phenomenon I addressed in WTNK: the myriad naturally-occurring odorants that hover just beyond direct detectability, yet which somehow add to our sensory experience of food and drink.

The third JAFC paper to catch my eye was by a Japanese team led by Takayuki Tamura at the Mercian Corporation. They investigated the fishy aftertaste that can occur when wine is paired with seafood. Using dried scallop as the sample seafood, a sensory panel rated all sorts of red and white wine for fishy aftertaste. Chemical analysis revealed that fishiness was positively correlated with the concentration of total iron and ferrous ion in the wines. Adding ferrous ion to a model wine boosted the fishy aftertaste; chelating the iron (soaking it up with a molecular sponge) reduced fishiness. Finally, the molecules responsible for fishy aftertaste (hexanal, heptanal, and 1-octen-3one) are increased when dried scallop is soaked in wine with higher levels of ferrous ion.

Tamura et al. deliver an open-and-shut case: iron is essential in causing the formation of fishy aftertaste in wine and seafood pairings. Very cool.

So tonight let’s lift a glass and savor the fruity notes; take a sip after some seafood and note the result; and finish things off with a nice Sauternes. Cheers!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Olfactory Genius: Smells Real and Imagined


What are the dimensions of olfactory talent? Everyone’s first guess—that smell sensitivity separates perfumers from the rest of us—is certainly wrong. What does set experts apart is the ability to think about odors in a certain way. For the olfactively gifted smells are easily discernable, almost palpable objects hedged round with associations and synaesthetically linked to sounds, colors and shapes. In other words, pure nose power is overshadowed by the cognitive talents of memory and imagination.

The ability to imagine a specific smell—to summon it up from memory in a vivid way—is central to smell creativity, whether the result is a perfumer’s formulation or the invocation of scent by a poet or novelist. In What the Nose Knows, I spend a chapter describing three traits of creative olfactory genius, drawing on the work of writers, musicians, and other artists. 

As a scientist working in the perfume industry I tackled the topic empirically. Along with my colleagues Sarah Kemp and Melissa Crouch, I created an olfactory version of a standard research questionnaire used to measure the vividness of a person’s mental imagery. We gave the Vividness of Olfactory Imagery Questionnaire (or VOIQ) to perfumers and other fragrance professionals, and compared their scores to those of non-experts. The perfumers had more vivid mental impressions of smell. In another study, I found that high odor imagers bought and used fragranced products more than low odor imagers.

Since then other researchers have found that VOIQ score predicts all sorts of odor-related behaviors. For example, psychologists Richard Stevenson and Trevor Case studied smells during dreaming.
They discovered multiple links between dream smelling and smell ability in the waking world. First, olfactory dreamers experience both visual and olfactory imagery more vividly than non-olfactory dreamers. Second, people with more vivid mental imagery for smells have more vivid smell dreams. A follow-up experiment found a third link: olfactory dreamers are better at identifying odors in a smell test. 

All of this suggests to me that some people are simply more tuned into odors than others. Smell-oriented people—those who identify odors accurately and imagine them vividly—tend to dream in smell as well. Olfactory talent shows itself all around the clock.

In recently published experiments, psychologist Catherine Rouby and co-workers at the Claude Bernard University of Lyon, France take things even further. Rouby gave the VOIQ (and its original visual version, the VVIQ) to 30 people, who then rated the smell of carvone, isoamyl acetate, and limonene for intensity, pleasantness and familiarity.
 
A second study also began with 30 people who took the VOIQ and VVIQ, but only the eight top-scoring good imagers and eight bottom-scoring poor imagers proceeded to the next stage: rating cineole, isoamyl acetate, and heptanal for intensity, pleasantness and familiarity. While doing so the subjects wore a nose mask equipped with an airflow sensor that measured sniffs.

Rouby’s team found that good visual and olfactory imagery go hand in hand. They also found that good olfactory imagers rate smells as more intense, familiar and edible than do poor olfactory imagers. They also sniff longer at all odors, regardless of the pleasantness of the odors. 

To the French team these results support “the hypothesis of deeper or more complete odor processing and better access to odor semantics in good olfactory imagers.” That’s a more precise and graceful way of saying that good olfactory imagers are “more tuned into odors.” 

Rouby’s results are further confirmation of the tight reciprocal links between sniffing behavior and the experience of real and imagined odors. People routinely sniff when asked to imagine a particular smell; in doing so, they activate an entire sensorimotor sequence that enhances the vividness of the imagined odor, just as eye movements during visual imagery help us “see” a specific picture in our mind.

All in all, what emerges from the new sensory neuroscience of smell is a view of odor perception as cognitive and motoric—hardly the all-emotion all-the-time caricature that used to prevail.