The modern world has robbed us of our sense of smell, a study suggests.
Researchers presented a range of smells to two groups of people in the rainforest in the Malay Peninsula who have never been studied before: the hunter-gatherer Semaq Beri people, and the Semelai, who farm.
They set out to see if the hunter gatherers would perform better than their settled, more Westernised neighbours. The groups, who have similar languages, were presented with 16 smells, including orange, leather and fish. They were also shown 20 colours.
Both groups were asked “what smell is this?” and “what colour is this?” The hunter gatherers were able to name smells and colours with equal ease. But the settled Semelai were only good at naming colours, the journal Current Biology reports.
Asifa Majid, of Radboud University in the Netherlands, suggested language differences were behind the phenomenon, saying: “The hunter gatherers have a vocabulary for different types of smells the way we do for different types of colours.”
In Western societies, it was found we can only name about 50% of familiar smells if we are unable to see where the smell comes from.