Sense of Smell Helped Separate Humans From
FRIDAY, Dec. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Modern humans --
Homo sapiens -- have a better sense of smell than their
extinct Neanderthal cousins, which may be one reason why one
thrived while the other died out, according to scientists.
Brain size is the same in both species, but differences in brain
shape may indicate differences in brain organization that may be
linked to behavior and cognition, which includes skills such as
memory, problem solving, attention and producing and understanding
The international team of researchers used high-end imaging
techniques to assess the internal structure of fossil
H. sapiens and Neanderthal skulls. The scans revealed that
modern humans have larger temporal lobes (involved in memory,
language and social function) and 12 percent larger olfactory bulbs
(involved in the sense of smell) than Neanderthals.
While other senses go through a number of brain filters, the
sense of smell is directly connected to regions of the brain that
process emotions, memory, fear, motivation, pleasure and sexual
"The sense of smell is directly linked to memories to an extent that no other sense is. This explains why smells immediately incite strong emotions concerning past events and also strong feelings about people," Katerina Harvati, of the University of Tubingen and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoecology in Germany, said in a university news release.
The better sense of smell in
H. sapiens may be related to the evolution of social
functions such as recognition of related people, enhanced family
relations, group cohesion and social learning, Harvati and
"Although traditionally olfaction in primates and humans has been considered a less important sense, our study reevaluates its potential significance for human evolution, and particularly for the social evolution of our own species, Homo sapiens," they concluded.
The study appeared Dec. 13 in the online journal
The Social Issues Research Center has more about the
human sense of smell.
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