Asked by: Tom Russell, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Yes, we have evolved a higher sensitivity to smells that indicate poison or danger. Rotten fish, for example, smells so disgusting because it’s teeming with bacteria, and we’ve evolved to interpret the odour as a warning that eating the fish would likely make us ill.
It’s true that we become more sensitive to some smells after we learn to associate them with a bad experience. But cadaverine and putrescine, which are produced by decaying corpses, smell revolting even if you have never smelled a dead body before. This aversion is shared with lots of animals and evolved at least 420 million years ago.
- Why does laundry smell better if it’s been hung up outside?
- Do children have a better sense of smell than adults?