Five tricks of the senses

Tongues can smell

Researchers in Philadelphia revealed last week that tastebuds also bear odour-detecting proteins, calling into question the idea that smell and taste come together in the brain to produce flavour. According to Dr Mehmet Hakan Ozdener, his findings open up the possibility of using smells to trick us into healthier eating, for example by adding a low-concentration odour to food to make it taste sweeter and thereby reduce sugar intake.

Blinded by the lights

It is believed that we all experience a form of motion-induced blindness while driving at night, when the red lights of the cars in front temporarily disappear if we move our eyes to the oncoming traffic. This phenomenon, where the brain ignores or discards visual information when it is placed in front of a moving background, was first observed in the lab in 1965.

Sight and sound

First described in 1976, the McGurk effect is a connection between hearing and vision in speech perception. When the auditory component of a syllable is paired with the visual component of another, this can lead to the perception of a third sound.

Lights can ‘disappear’ from our perception while driving at night.

Lights can ‘disappear’ from our perception while driving at night. Photograph: Frank Rumpenhorst/EPA

A taste for cutlery

Research conducted by the University of Oxford in 2013 suggests that the sight of cutlery and the perception of its size, weight, shape and colour have an effect on how we determine flavour, suggesting that the brain makes judgments on food even before it goes in our mouths. Yoghurt, for example, tastes sweeter on a white spoon than it does on a black spoon.

Music on the menu

Various experiments show a crossover in human perception between smell and sound. University of Oxford researchers found consistencies when participants were asked to pair certain smells to musical instruments and pitches: a piano smelled fruity, while brass had a musky odour. This phenomenon is thought to be caused by an area of the brain called the olfactory tubercle, which responds to both auditory and olfactory stimuli.


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