Every nationality on our planet has its own traditions, omens, standards of beauty, and other cultural traits. What is considered the norm in one part of the world may be perceived as savage in another. For example, the indigenous peoples of New Zealand, the Maori, women with tattoos covering the chin are considered beautiful. And the Asian Padawng people consider a long neck beautiful, which is why women wear special metal hoops around their necks.
We are all different, but almost all nations have one thing in common: we adore some smells and hate others. This was learned in an experiment involving 280 people who are indigenous people from different continents, farmers and city dwellers. They were asked to smell a dozen scented sticks with different smells and arrange them by degree of pleasantness. It turned out that people tended to think of the same smells as pleasant and unpleasant, regardless of cultural traits.
Science Alert reported on the experiment and its results. Participants were from 10 different cultural groups, including a number of indigenous hunter-gatherer peoples and traditional farming communities, as well as modern city dwellers. To conduct the experiment, the authors of the scientific paper had to travel independently to Thailand, Mexico, Ecuador and the United States, including deserts, rainforests, high-altitude and coastal areas and so on. New Yorkers were chosen as modern city dwellers because that city represents the greatest ethnic diversity.
A total of 280 people took part in the experiment. The researchers gave them 10 devices for spraying different smells. People were asked to smell the smells and arrange them by level of pleasantness – at first put the most pleasant, and at the end leave those that cause disgust.
In nearly all cases, vanilla was perceived to be the most pleasant scent. Also, many participants in the experiment found the smell of ethyl butyrate, a substance that has a fruity smell and is often used as a flavor enhancer, to be pleasant. The third most pleasant was linalool, which has a floral smell.
The most unpleasant odor was emitted by isovaleric acid. It is characterized by a pungent, unpleasant odor that can sometimes be smelled in cheese, soy milk, and human sweat.
The researchers got almost identical results, so they concluded that cultural differences in no way affect how people perceive different smells. It turns out that it can’t be the case that for city dwellers the smell of flowers and fruit seems pleasant, but for the peoples of Africa it is disgusting. No – these smells in both cases are considered pleasant, but the smell of sweat always causes a nauseating effect. Of course, there are people who like some smells that are unpleasant to many, but these are individual preferences.