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Mechanisms of scent-tracking in humans

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 01 February 2007

This article has been updated


Whether mammalian scent-tracking is aided by inter-nostril comparisons is unknown. We assessed this in humans and found that (i) humans can scent-track, (ii) they improve with practice, (iii) the human nostrils sample spatially distinct regions separated by 3.5 cm and, critically, (iv) scent-tracking is aided by inter-nostril comparisons. These findings reveal fundamental mechanisms of scent-tracking and suggest that the poor reputation of human olfaction may reflect, in part, behavioral demands rather than ultimate abilities.

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Figure 1: Human subject's path following a scent trail, as compared to a dog's path.
Figure 2: Training increased tracking velocity, decreased deviation from track, and increased sniffing frequency.
Figure 3: The two-nostril advantage in sampling and tracking.

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Studies were funded by Army Research Office grant #46666-LS and by US National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders grants DC006915 and DC005958. The authors wish to thank B. Willmore for help with the video tracking algorithm and K. Scott for comments on the manuscript, as well as Arak Elite.

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Correspondence to Jess Porter or Noam Sobel.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Fig. 1

An example dynamic power spectra and tracking path. (PDF 370 kb)

Supplementary Video 1

Sample trial. (MOV 2171 kb)

Supplementary Methods (PDF 90 kb)

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Porter, J., Craven, B., Khan, R. et al. Mechanisms of scent-tracking in humans. Nat Neurosci 10, 27–29 (2007).

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