Do You Smell What I Smell?: Deaf People’s Noses

Purple Nose.jpg
The Overlooked Sense: Ask people which of their senses they’d be willing to give up first – chances are, it’s the sense of smell. Either that, or the sense of taste, with taste being more likely if they belong to the Picky Eaters Club. Smelling isn’t usually up there at the top of anyone’s favorite conversation topics list, but it’s really a fascinating sense. There’s research that shows people respond to the smell of male and female hormones in all sorts of ways, including mood changes, increased aggression, and sexual drive. Aromatherapy is growing in popularity, with research even suggesting it is effective in preventing infection during cancer treatment. Smell is also strongly associated with memory, something many of us can identify with, when a certain smell reminds us of a person, a place, or a particular event in our lives.

Do Deaf People Smell Fear Better?: For a long time, animals have been thought to be able to detect chemicals that are produced by other animals when they experience fear. Now research is finding that people can also identify the smell of fear, possibly from chemicals in sweat, which is often produced during times of fear. What about Deaf people and the sense of smell? Do Deaf people detect more smells than hearing people? Are we more more attuned to smells, the same way many of us seem to be more visually alert than many hearing people? What’s your experience with the sense of smell?

  1. Anne Marie September 28, 2006

    Very true. I have read somewhere several times how a handful of people make 6 figures a year just sniffing things for commerical things like laundry detergent, perfumes, shampoos etc. I wonder, wow what a heck, I really can do better than them myself.

    I personally do my custom oil perfume and lotion at my friend’s apothecary shop. They come with four different scent oils, my nose goes as far as to be able to detect several notes and know how much which one needs more or less drop. My friend who is a Shaman and owner of the shop sometime asks me to sniff her products because she knows deaf people usually have better noses and I have the best one. ;^)

    Hey, to be honest with folks who wear commerical perfumes and shampoos that reek, I do get slightly nauseated. I do. After many years of only using natural products, these commerical made body care products smell sooo TERRIBLE…they are equally artifical as any food injected with artifical man made color and flavor, nothing compared with natural foods that burst geniunity from being well grown and ripen and properly cooked.

    About smell in people, before I tell my story, do not think I am sniffing all the time. I find it interesting that my brain does detect my husband or my son having a sore throat or inflammatory in their lungs. Also I often know if my son cried at a park and came home. It’s the chemistry in perspiration that alters and reflects of what has been going on.

    Hey commericals, I will be more than happy to have this job if you got one?

    Anne Marie

  2. Carl Schroeder September 28, 2006

    I believe rather firmly that our remaining senses become highly acute due to the lack of sense of hearing. I think all other senses are biologically conditioned to substitute the missing hearing sense. When ask a Deaf individual, the question “do you smell what I smell?” can be also asked for the followings:
    Do you see what I see?
    Do you feel what I feel?
    Do you taste what I taste?
    For example, speaking of the sense of taste, I remember being a Student Council leader at Maryland School for the Deaf in late 1960’s, I argued that we had bad apples because they tasted blant. But our school principal who was not Deaf did not think so.

  3. Suzy September 28, 2006


    I work with Deafblind and I am amazed how their sense of smell picks up alot of information! For example–one of my bosses who is Deafblind can smell me in the room and she’ll ask where is Suzann! Isn’t that fascinating?!

    Personals: my sense of smell was eroded because I grew up in a Armenian family who smoked quite a bit. I developed a subconscious block, wouldn’t take advantage of my sense of smell, therefore my ability to smell or sniff became impaired after a while. I could smell the toast burning and that kind of thing but finer scents or to be able to distinguish rapid one smell than another, it wasn’t possible.

    Many years ago, I improved greatly when I did shamanic (energy) work and my sense of smell that was ”robbed” from my family as heavy smokers–returned! Fortunately for me, I can use my sense of smell much better than when I was younger!

    In a sense, I feel ”re-born” with alot of capacities returned!

  4. Jenn September 28, 2006

    Deaf people like all people vary in their sense of smell. I have participated in such blindfolded experiments. One deaf man was also anosmic (couldn’t smell)– like Laurent clerc. One deaf woman had a nose like a bloodhound.

    As for me, I can smell but sometimes have problems naming what I smell, I once named a tomato as potato when smelling one blindfolded. Since then I have tried and delibrately associate smells with names.
    Because I like to cook, I routinely try and figure out what is in the food I just ate, but this is due to interest.

    Oh, and many artifical perfumes etc. give me what are called olfactory migraines. They are like sinus headaches that can even wrap around the eyes and make me nauseous, but they are triggered by smells. You don’t have to be deaf to have this.

    I knew a hearing man with a weak sense of smell who could not stand the smell of coffee at all.

  5. Katherine October 3, 2006

    It is nice to know I fall in the same category as Laurent Clerc, may the power be with us! ๐Ÿ™‚ I often tease people, “Wanna be my smelling interpreter?” I am fortunate to be blessed with no odor problem ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I have zero sense of smell. I believe that I compensate other 3 sense areas in a way that is different than those who have lost only one. Often people assume that I can’t taste because of that, which is false. Perhaps the level of sensitivity in the tasting department is not as strong.

    I know my deaf dogs are not people, but I noticed how their sense of smell are unusually high that differs from dogs that can hear. They, especially one of them, know when my next door neighbor lets several of her cats out within the confinement of their 6 foot tall wood fenced yard.

  6. Katherine October 3, 2006

    In addition to my dogs, an interesting observation between my two deaf dogs. One seems to have a little of hearing while the other is profoundly deaf. The latter has a sharper sense of smell than the other.

    I found it to be hilarious when one day while my dogs were asleep in the same room as me, I sneezed loudly that one stayed asleep and the other would dart out of the room and go downstairs in attempt to find out where the sound came from.

  7. Will November 19, 2006

    I have been involved in a smell experiment at Rutgers University where I had to watch movie clips evoking different emotions from myself and the other subjects wearing pads under our armpits. The experimenters stated that there were people with this extraordinary sense of smell for emotion and that they would use these pads for testing. Haven’t found out the results yet but quite interesting.

  8. Helaine Becker May 14, 2007

    Can you please tell me the source for this statement in your post, “Do Deaf People smell Better”: Now research is finding that people can also identify the smell of fear, possibly from chemicals in sweat, which is often produced during times of fear.



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