The other day the building I work in was evacuated . . . not a fire drill but for a real emergency. You could tell by the alarm and the guy on the intercom telling everybody to get out of the building . . . NOW.
While we were standing around out designated rally point we got word that there was a leaking propane tank on one of our loading docks. We began chatting amongst ourselves while waiting for the all clear to return to the building.
We could actually smell the gas. One of my co-workers commented that she liked the smell of gasoline . . . actually most petroleum products. Another woman commented that she kind of liked the smell of acetone. I didn’t think they were weird because I happen to like the smell of a campfire, gunpowder and Hoppes #9 (a cleaning solvent).
I thought the answer would be something fairly simplistic . . . that the smells were associations with something good . . . a good memory; but, alas, no. Keep in mind that actually enjoying the smell of something is not the same as having a good memory of something.
It IS a psychological reaction but not for the reasons I suspected. Certain smells elicit a reaction in our brains that we experience as pleasure. Surely, the smells of glue, gasoline and tar shouldn’t make us happy. But, for a lot of us, they do.
Taking pleasure in a smell is actually hard coded into us. Something in your brain knows when something is beneficial to our survival. It’s kind of like having an appetite for food or sex. If you eat you survive. If you reproduce a part of you survives . . . through your offspring. Or a phobia of heights or poisonous snakes. If you fall off a cliff you die and if you get bitten by a poisonous snake you will most likely die. It’s kind of like that . . .
Look back at all the things I’ve mentioned . . . gasoline, acetone, gun powder, tar, glue . . . yes, even my favorite Hoppes #9 . . . all of these things have one thing in common . . . they are all highly flammable and that’s probably not entirely coincidental.
What do you need to survive? Food, water, shelter and warmth. What keeps you warm? Fire. To ensure that your food is not contaminated, you cook it . . . the same with boiling water.
Your brain knows that these things are can potentially create fire . . . and coincidentally, they can create fire quite easily.
By directing the chemical make-ups of these substances through smell to the olfactory centers in our brain. Thus creating a sensation of pleasure through the stimulation and release of neurotransmitters (such as dopamine, norepinephren, and seratonin) in the same way that it would occur during sexual intercourse, eating a good steak, or exercise.
Experiencing pleasure in a smell . . . even a weird one . . . is our brain’s way of telling us that something about the source is good. It’s telling us something to help us to survive.
How cool is that??