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Whiffs of Perception: Sniffing activates the mind's nose

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12:20pm, November 12, 2003

A rose by any other name smells as sweet, even when you only conjure up its fragrance in your mind. That's because people use their noses to sniff imaginary as well as real aromas, and the mere act of sniffing scentless air kick-starts odor perception, a new study finds.

Behaviors, such as sniffing, that are used to acquire sensations do themselves activate brain representations of those sensations, concludes a research team led by Moustafa Bensafi of the University of California, Berkeley.

"Sniffing is not just a way to pick up smells, it's a part of olfactory perception," says Berkeley psychologist Noam Sobel, a coauthor of the new study.

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