Physiology of Olfaction
The human nose is capable of discriminating thousands of different odor substances, but this achievement is modest compared with the performance of other organisms. This relative lack of olfactory ability, combined with the dominant importance of our other sense organs, may well be one reason why people have had little interest in research on the olfactory system. Another is the difficulty of experiments on the sense of smell — with humans, certainly, but also with other animals. As a consequence, neither subjective nor objective criteria have permitted clear definition of odor qualities; there is little order in the bewildering variety of adequate olfactory stimuli. On the other hand, as this chapter will show, the olfactory pathway in mammals is well known. Structural and physiologic analysis has revealed a number of interesting properties of the system — for example, that the signals sent to the brain are under efferent control. Much has also been learned about the significance of the sense of smell in autonomic regulatory and emotional attitudes.
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