For instance if I smell the fragrance of a rose, well it smells like roses (little bit sweet). But is that smell the same for other people?

Because we also have different voices, why not have different olfaction.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The substance that you smell is very likely the same as other people (the smell receptor on the nose react to the same chemical), however how your brain reacts to a certain smell is very likely different to other people - so the perceived smell can also be different $\endgroup$
    – Nicolai
    Jun 15, 2017 at 8:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Nicolai thank you! Can you move your comment to the awnser box so I can accept is as an awsner? $\endgroup$ Jun 15, 2017 at 9:15

2 Answers 2


Humans generally have the same set up of olfactory receptors, since they are encoded by genes (there likely are minor differences between people, since there are a lot of these genes). Therefore chemically or physically all humans can smell the same substances.
However, how a smell is perceived depends also a lot on how the brain reacts to a certain smell (or rather the activation of certain olfactory neurons). Therefore individual people can perceive the same chemical substance a different way - how different depends probably strongly on previous experiences.


Humans actually have a wide diversity in the range of odors they can detect. [1],[2] The variations are dependent on a number of factors, including age, sex, pregnancy, training, and individual genetics. [3],[4],[5],[6]

A significant source of genetic variation in olfactory function between individuals comes from the fact that quite a few chemical-sensing genes have in recent evolutionary times become defective in some gene variants while remaining functional in others. An individual's inheritance of a particular combination of functional and nonfunctional olfactory receptor genes gives the individual an personalized combination of smelling sensitivities. [1]

[1] Menashe, I., Man, O., Lancet, D. and Gilad, Y., 2003. Different noses for different people. Nature genetics, 34(2), p.143. PDF

[2] David G. Laing, Richard L. Doty, Winrich Breipohl, eds., The Human Sense of Smell, Springer Science & Business Media, 2012, p. 312. Image

[3] Odor - Wikipedia

[4] A.B. Marin T.E. Acree J. Barnard, Variation in odor detection thresholds determined by charm analysis, Chem Senses (1988) 13 (3): 435-444. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/chemse/13.3.435

[5] Darren W. Logan, Do you smell what I smell? Genetic variation in olfactory perception., Biochem Soc Trans. 2014 Aug; 42(4): 861–865. doi: https://doi.org/10.1042/BST20140052

[6] Simon Makin, Sense of smell has a genetic flavour, New Scientist


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