The National Library of Medicine has done some interesting things, and one of the more fascinating to me as of late is the 'sniffing kids' test. Despite the name it isn't about smelling children, instead, it's all about kid's favorite smells and what sort of things their noses can easily recognize and identify. Olfactory function in adults has been heavily studied, while kids have been left out in the cold a bit.
What makes this line of inquiry particularly interesting is that it might help us identify why children don't enjoy the same smells or foods that adults do. My presumption was that my two-year-old spit anything with mushrooms in it onto the floor because of the texture. This study on what kids can smell and favorite kid smells got me into another line of thinking. He might simply be smelling something that my old nose doesn't.
Check out our smells!
Before you dive in, marvel at our bubblegum scented kid's foot spray and kid's shoe powder that is sure to keep your kid's feet smelling sweet! Bubble gum obviously ranked fairly high among kids and now? They can enjoy that scent all day.
How was the Smellin' Kids test performed?
16 'sniffing sticks' were presented to children aged 6-17 years old in a well-ventilated room. The children were allowed to smell the odors as many times as needed in order to come up with some sort of answer. The sticks were actually scented felt-tipped markers. These artificial smells might have some sort of effect on the final answer of the kids, but overall they were largely able to come to a consensus as to what the smells might be. Children averaged a total of 11.98 correct answers out of the 16 smells.
A follow-up second round with the two least identified smells was performed, and this obviously increased the average significantly. There was no difference between the accuracy of boys and girls, but accuracy trended upward in relation to age. This seems logical, as older children will have encountered more odors. Curious as to which smells were missed the most? Which were most identifiable? Finally, which smells were the kid's favorites? Those questions and more will be answered as we take a deeper dive into this scientific analysis.
Congenital anosmia is a condition in which people are born with the inability to smell. It can occur isolated with no additional symptoms, or it might be linked with a specific genetic disorder such as Kallman Syndrome. Isolated congenital anosmia is generally sporadic, although there are some familial cases on record. The relation to genetic causes is relatively unknown at this time.
In this test of kid's favorite smells you might assume that anosmic children would be purposely excluded, but that would be a disservice to the scientific method! Twenty-five children with anosmia were included in the study, and were generally healthy. That is to say, they didn't show any symptoms aside from the aforementioned anosmia. When further questioned, none of these participants could recall any odorous sensations aside from some intranasal sensation that is likely due to the trigenimal nerves.
The different smells had a wide range. The odors included in the test were as follows: Peppermint, banana, fish, orange, cinnamon, coffee, cloves, garlic, pineapple, rose, lemon, liquorice, aniseed, shoe leather, turpentine, and apple. We will go over the identification success rate for each smell, and you'll likely be very surprised at some of the results!
With an identification rate of 97% peppermint was by far the easiest smell for kids to identify. This odor also rated the highest along with garlic among anosmic children, likely due to the slight burning sensation. Both peppermint and garlic were identified at a rate of 57% among kids with anosmia. Peppermint was incorrectly identified as smells ranging from chives and onions to wood.
Incorrectly identified as coconut, walnuts, and cherries banana is one of the more enjoyed and identified. It classifies as one of the favorite kid smells, and was correctly identified 93% of the time.
With a success rate of 92%, fish was right behind bananas. The odor is certainly identifiable, but not as pleasing. Fish was incorrectly identified most often as bread, cheese, and ham.
Dropping out of the 90th percentile we meet the good old-fashioned orange. Identification of 86% is surprisingly low, but oranges were a favorite smell and most often identified incorrectly as pleasant things like blackberry, strawberry, or pineapples.
Anosmic children identified cinnamon at a very low rate of 28%. I would've thought the burn would rank cinnamon up there with peppermint and garlic, but those results didn't pan out. Success rate for non-anosmic children was 86%. Cinnamon was a pleasant scent equated with honey, vanilla, and chocolate.
Kids do not like the smell of coffee. Despite an identification of 83%, when it was incorrectly identified the children labeled it as things like wine, cigarette smoke, and candle smoke. A very surprising result to a coffee-addict like myself.
Another surprise. Cloves were identified at a 79% success rate. It was somewhat neutral in how pleasing kids found the smell. When a wrong guess was taken it was generally pepper, mustard, or cinnamon.
No surprises here. Garlic was correctly guessed 78% of the time, and kids seem to not enjoy the scent. Incorrect guesses for this odor consisted of onion, sauerkraut, and even carrots.
I guess pineapple is an obscure scent, because it was identified only 76% of the time. It was still a pleasing scent that was compared to other delicious fruits such as pears, plums, and peaches. Yum!
One quarter of kids know a rose by any other name. 75% is a surprisingly low accuracy for what I would've thought is a fairly common scent. Still, roses ranked well as a pleasing scent and were most often described incorrectly as chamomile, raspberry, or cherry.
Another 75% ratio, lemon still scored quite well on favorite smells. When lemon was guessed incorrectly it was described as peach, apple, and grapefruit. I can see how they got to grapefruit but peaches? That's a shocker.
Plenty of adults hate liquorice, but kids can identify it and love it. 70% of kids called out liquorice, and those that guessed incorrectly called it a variety of pleasant things like gummybears, chewing gum, and cookies.
A bit of an obscure smell that ranked neutrally, aniseed was identified 69% of the time. Incorrect guesses included rum, honey, and wood. I'm not sure where these kids had smelled rum before. Someone question those parents...
Two out of three still got shoe leather guessed correctly. 66% is still an OK ratio, but shoe leather was in the bottom tier of favorite kid smells. Most often it was described incorrectly as smoke, glue, or grass.
The bottom dropped out for these last two smells. 36% correctly identified turpentine and it was the lowest ranked among how pleasant it is, which I can't say is much of a shocker.
Despite a 34% success rate, children seem to like apples. It was compared to pears, bananas, and candy. This is an interesting dynamic, and is my main reason for wanting to dive deeper into this study.