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Human olfaction at the intersection of language, culture and biology

There is a long tradition of under-estimating the sense of smell, and the information it provides. This long-standing picture of olfaction is being challenged today from a variety of directions. Previous estimates held that humans could only distinguish 10,000 odors, but this estimate has been revised to more than 1,000,000,000,000. Great strides have also been made in unlocking the perceptual bases of olfactory discrimination and categorization. Researchers are now able to predict both behavioral and neural activity in response to novel odors.

Cross-cultural data from communities across the globe open up yet new vistas. Speakers of Jahai, Maniq, Seri, and others, have elaborate dedicated odor lexicons and name smells with apparent ease. Smell language is tightly connected with cultural practices, be it among speakers of olfactory languages, or within expert populations in the West. Specialist communities of wine experts and herb vendors help elucidate the important role experience can play on our olfactory sense, while special populations such as synesthetes and anosmics challenge our understanding further.

This conference brings together world-leading scientists and scholars to explore human olfaction from an interdisciplinary perspective.


For more information, call for papers, registration etc. please visit the conference website.

Where and when:
Jun 22 to Mar 23, 2017
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen
Scientific committee:
Asifa Majid | Laura Speed | Ilja Croijmans | Carolyn O’Meara | Ewelina Wnuk
NWO The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research



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