I want to change the biology of one human being via hand-waving to allow this individual to have abilities similar to a gray wolf - focussing for this question on an enhanced nose which should be able to be roughly 14 times as receptive as a normal humans nose.

This question is similar to a previous question from me where I asked How would it affect a human to suddenly hear like a cat? In this question we will, again, ignore the way in which the human acquires this enhanced ability and assume a lot of handwaving. The nose will stay the same, but the human has an enhanced sense of smell, better than other humans and comparable to that of a gray wolf. After the transformation the human will resume his normal life.

If an average american human would, from one day to the other, be able to suddenly have a far better sense of smell than other humans - what would be the biggest problems this human would have to face in his everyday life?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I know you say to leave at least the exterior appearance of the human's nose unchanged, but you still might be interested in The amazing dog nose: can you smell me now? on The Institute of Canine Biology blog. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Aug 30, 2017 at 7:49
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I wonder would perfume business boom or doom? $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Aug 30, 2017 at 8:08
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @user6760 Boom. Exquisite perfumes will be able to be smelled by a larger users. $\endgroup$
    – Vylix
    Aug 30, 2017 at 8:51
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ That reminds me of my wife during her pregnancy. She could tell what every of our neighbors was cooking, and absolutely could not stand some of those smells. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Aug 30, 2017 at 17:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This magical animal sense of smell is a misconception from 200 years ago. They are not that much better. Sadly I can't copy a link to my sources because of technical problems but a Google search doesn't take long. This won't matter much. Have you ever stopped smoking? The first week after that I guess $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Aug 30, 2017 at 20:46

3 Answers 3


He can remember people's scents, the way he can remember what they look like, or the sound of their voice. @MichaelKjörling has pointed out that wolves dedicate more brain space to this than humans do, so your protagonist might have to pay attention to remember a scent, rather than it happening as automatic recall akin to a superpower. Also, the scent memories might have to compete for 'storage space' in the bit of the brain used for taste memories or visual memories.

If you overlook the lack of storage space for scents, your character could have the potential to turn into the world's greatest detective, if he can get to a crime scene pronto.

"The murderer was..." [sniff, sniff] "...a man, non-smoker, vegetarian, has recently eaten something containing garlic and chilli, washes with Pears soap and might have a beard, since I can't smell any shaving products."

So if he's NOT a detective (being an average American human), other folks are going to start to think he's a bit weird, as he might know things he shouldn't from picking up on lingering scents: Bob was just in the boss's office a few minutes ago, Mary gave Fred a ride to work, Karen has started drinking again, Janet took the stairs not the lift, John has a secret stash of sweets/drugs in his desk drawer, Eric and Doris had sex in the stationery cupboard...

He might recognise someone by scent, even if he's never met them before. So if a thief has been sneaking into his work and stealing things, your hero would immediately recognise his scent if he stood behind the thief in the supermarket checkout queue.

Meanwhile, some scents or chemicals will overwhelm him and knock out his sense of smell. A friend was stewarding at the swimming events at the Commonwealth games and said the bomb-detection sniffer dogs had to be swapped out every 10 minutes or so when they were checking the venue, since the chlorine swiftly rendered them unable to smell anything.

Wind direction will become suddenly important to him - including where the airflow from aircon ducts goes. What he can smell (unless he goes around with his nose pressed to the ground) will be very dependent on whether he is upwind or downwind.

  • $\begingroup$ Can you elaborate on the opening sentence? As I recall, wolves and dogs dedicate considerable brain space to remembering scents, far more so than humans. That wouldn't change just because the protagonist suddenly has a much better sense of smell. He might still be able to remember and recognize scents (though not necessarily describe them), but I doubt this ability would be on par with a wolf's; now, drawing conclusions from scents is a different matter, and presumably something the protagonist could do. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Aug 30, 2017 at 13:20
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling. OK will edit - good catch. $\endgroup$
    – DrBob
    Aug 30, 2017 at 13:21

He/she would have to deal with a huge amount of information not available before, such as:

  • hormonal smell of all the persons around him/her (that woman is about to ovulate, the barman is really angry at that customer, somebody in this room has cancer, ...)
  • other odoriferous information (take a crowded metro cab in summer, multiply by 100 the nose-nightmare).

Depending on how the body reacts to this information, some issue may arise. I.e. if the smell of an ovulating woman will induce arousal (common in some animal males) or the smell of an aggressive but controlled man will induce a fight-or-flee reaction. Also opportunities can arise: i.e. if he/she can smell a bleeding person from a distance or follow traces of a missing person.


It would be socially awkward.

I think it was Feynman who originally wrote: humans actually have a surprisingly good sense of smell. It's just that we don't use it, because people would look at us funny if we walked around sniffing at people and objects. (See also: this article)

So your average American human would spend a lot of time trying to hide that they were sniffing at things. They might eventually conclude the awkwardness wasn't worth the information gained.

If dogs are anything to judge by, this average American human also probably would start hating to take baths (because of the strong odors of soap and shampoo).


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .