Watching the kids go through their paces at the end of day-1 training, I was talking with a mom who said, I’ve got to get her gear and air it out.
Now that Amy is a hockey player, she also is rigorous about airing the gear and washing the undergarments.
Science may have an explanation.
Leonard Sax of the N.Y. Times wrote last month that the sense of smell differs between women and men. It’s entirely plausible that a woman could perceive an odor which is – for the woman – overpoweringly awful, while a man doesn’t smell anything.
In research published in 2002 in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Pamela Dalton of the Monell Chemical Senses Center and her colleagues exposed men and women to smells in the laboratory. Not just once, but over and over again. Dr. Dalton and her team found that with repeated exposure, the women’s ability to detect the odors improved 100,000-fold: the women were able to detect the odor at a concentration 1/100,000th of the concentration they needed at the beginning of the study.
But the male subjects, on average, showed no improvement at all in their ability to detect the odor.
Smell receptors in the nose send their signals via the olfactory nerve to the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb is the first stop in the brain for information about smell.
There are two basic kinds of brain cells: Neurons are considered the most important, because they seem to play the biggest role in sending information via electrical signals. But glial cells are essential too, because they provide structure and may also modulate information processing in the brain.
On all counts, women beat men. Women have more cells in the olfactory bulb: 16.2 million cells total in the average woman, compared with 9.2 million total cells in the average man. In 2014 research published in PLOS One, researchers at the University of São Paulo compared the noses of 18 subjects from age 55 to 94 shortly after their deaths. They found that the women had 6.9 million neurons, double the 3.5 million in the men. When they counted glial cells, women again had more: 9.3 million compared with 5.7 million in the men.
The differences in their perceptions could make each feel that the other must be crazy. Was she imagining the smell? Was he lying and pretending he didn’t smell it?
Knowing that the differences in male and female noses can be so extreme, the best approach may be for each family member to agree to respect and trust the other’s report of sensory experiences.