Your nose may be able to warn you about the impending death, according to new research from top behavioral and psychology scientists.

Our sense of smell serves a multitude of purposes. From the simple act of telling us when we’ve overcooked our meal to the complicated nuance of helping us choose the right mate.

However, according to Arnaud Wisman from the University of Kent and Ilan Shrira from the Loyola University Chicago, our nose may also help us detect when we are about to die.

The research

The relatively new research was published in Frontiers in Psychology and examined the behavior of people who were exposed to putrescine. In itself, putrescine is a foul-smelling chemical compound, usually produced in the decaying tissue of dead bodies.

Arnaud Wisman, a Ph.D. in the field of Psychology, and Ilan Shrira, a Behavioral Psychologist, hypothesized that the foul smell of the substance might not be only related to preserving our physical self by avoiding decaying bodies but might also be related to our own self-realization of the impending death.

To test the theory that putrescine might help us realize when death is near, the two researchers decided to do multiple experiments in a controlled environment related to the conscious and nonconscious reactions of people to the chemical compound.

The four experiments exposed subjects to areas covered with putrescine, ammonia, and water. Surprisingly, results from all the experiments showed that the participants were able to process putrescine as a warning signal.

How our nose detects the impending death

When exposed to the compound, people were highly mobilized. In fact, putrescine was found to activate the cognitive functions of the brain related to escape and threat.

“It is hard to think of a scent as frightening,” comment Wisman and Shira. “We don’t know why we like or dislike someone’s smell and we are usually not aware of how scent influences our emotions, preferences, and attitudes.”

The research also explained that the reaction can be compared to most animals. Usually, confronted with a dangerous situation, animals either fight or run away. Putrescine seems to affect people in the same way, activating our fight-or-flight response.

During the study, people were not aware of their negative reactions. “People are not familiar with putrescine and do not consciously associate it with death or fear,” further commented the two leading researchers.

The research shows that our nose might have a bigger role in our everyday lives than previously thought. Furthermore, the array of stimuli that affects our behavior might be right in front of our eyes and yet we might not perceive it consciously.

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