WASHINGTON—National Geographic magazine invited its readers to smell an armpit and, strangely enough, 1.5 million of them did.

Readers put their noses to the grindstone as part of the magazine’s Smell Survey, a joint effort with the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia to sniff out data, on our olfactory sense. The data are now available to researchers.

The September 1986 issue of the magazine included a scratch-and-sniff sheet (odorants encased in polymers) that contained six unidentified scents. Readers were asked to smell the odors, if they could, and then rate them for their intensity, pleasantness (or lack thereof) and other attributes. They were also asked a series of questions about their general health, handedness, use of perfume or cologne and olfactory problems.

Respondents ranged from newborns to senior citizens, and included entire classrooms and even a handful of cats and dogs.

The results of a randomly selected sample...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?