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Nostril rivalry

When the two sides of the nose smell conflicting scents, the brain doesn’t combine them

1:09pm, August 20, 2009

Nostrils usually get along great. But when they smell conflicting scents, those nose holes become deadly rivals.

When one nostril smells something different from the other, the brain chooses between the two scents instead of combining them, researchers report online August 20 in Current Biology. The authors argue that their study is the first to demonstrate this phenomenon, which they call two-nostril, or binaral, rivalry.

Studying the rivalry between the nares may help scientists understand how the brain processes smells, says study coauthor Denise Chen of Rice University in Houston.

“It’s an interesting article,” says neuroscientist Jay Gottfried of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. “It shows something that has not been appreciated much before.”

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