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10 April 2018

How many different smells can you adequately describe in words?

How many different smells can you not only identify, but also adequately describe in words? Probably not that many. Members of hunter-gatherer communities, by comparison, excel at this. Studies among the Jahai people of the Malay Peninsula show that they find naming odours as easy as naming colours. According to Asifa Majid, a researcher at Radboud University in the Netherlands, "hunter-gatherers' olfaction is superior, while settled peoples' olfactory cognition is diminished" – a cultural adaptation to a modern world in which recognizing different smells is no longer that important.

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