June 12th, 2011
Life is experienced through the five senses — they’re the sight and smell of a colorful garden during the springtime, the taste of a freshly ripened fruit, the melody of a finely tuned instrument, and the soothing touch from someone you love. They give us the ability to perceive our surroundings on five different levels and beyond, something healthy people tend to take for granted. Given their advanced function and extraordinary capabilities, they’re a fascinating study for those in the medical field and people who are merely interested in human physiology. Here are 15 little-known facts about your five senses.
- Your eyes are capable of processing 36,000 pieces of information per hour: They efficiently deliver data for your brain to process so that you can contextualize and evaluate it instantly. This is how we understand not only the activity that surrounds us, but art, writing and other stimulating pieces of visual information.
- Your eyes will process 24 million images in your lifetime: Overall, they contribute toward 85 percent of your knowledge. Simply put, they’re responsible for setting up how we react to the environments in which we live.
- One eye consists of more than two million working parts: Incredibly complex, your eye, as previously mentioned, is a highly productive and resilient organ that can adjust to different conditions and overcome a number of disturbances.
- Your eyes can recognize candle light from up to 14 miles away: Of course, this can only be done under perfect conditions, but it’s impressive nonetheless. Your eyes are the strongest muscles in your body relative to their duties, and they function at 100 percent capacity. Capabilities such as this one prove they’re one of the most powerful tools possessed by humans.
- Males are much more likely to be colorblind than females: Seven percent of the American male population, 10 million, see green and red abnormally. Meanwhile, just four-tenths of a percent of women experience the same problem. Researchers hypothesize that the genes causing colorblindness reside close to each other on the X chromosome — males, of course, only have one.
- Instantaneous hearing loss occurs at 120 decibels: Prolonged exposure to any sound reaching 80 decibels can cause hearing loss, but instantaneous hearing loss can occur at 120 decibels, which is the equivalent of sitting in front of speakers at a rock concert. At 140 decibels, the equivalent of a jet engine or a gunshot, hearing loss and actual pain can occur.
- Tinnitus affects at least 15 percent of the U.S. population: If you constantly hear ringing, clicking, hissing or roaring sounds, you’re not alone. Common causes include exposure to loud noises and medication, and it can even occur as a side effect of issues such as high or low blood pressure, heart problems and the presence of tumors. Human ears are sensitive anatomical organs that should be treated with the utmost care.
- You can smell about 10,000 odors: Although our sense of smell is inferior to the sense of smell possessed by animals, many of which have inferior eyesight anyway, we’re still capable of detecting a multitude of odors using the nose’s olfactory receptor neurons. Those receptors are each encoded with a unique gene; if you lack a gene, then you lack the ability to detect that smell.
- Your sense of smell is closely linked to your memory: Part of the brain’s limbic system, the olfactory bulb accesses the hippocampus and amygdala, which are responsible for associative learning and emotion respectively. People often link smells to events from the past as a conditioned response, a result of that smell being repeatedly paired with an experience.
- Females possess a better sense of smell than males: Another sense in which women have men beat. A study conducted in the U.S. a decade ago showed that women of reproductive age were able detect various scents at a higher rate than men, and it’s possibly due to the influence of female sex hormones. When males and females are middle aged or older, however, their senses of smell are roughly the same.
- A woman’s sense of smell is heightened during pregnancy: Some women experience such a heightened sense of smell during pregnancy that ordinary, normally pleasant smells become unbearable. Doctors haven’t pinpointed a reason why this occurs, but there are several theories, one of which claims it’s a side effect of morning sickness.
- Eighty percent of what we experience as taste is actually smell: It’s common knowledge that smell affects taste. Every child has held their nose to avoid tasting nasty food they were forced to eat by their parents. Such a behavior hinders odor molecules from reaching the smell cells in your nose, enabling you to skip the displeasure that comes with eating what you don’t like.
- Females possess a better sense of taste than males: Females and males have approximately the same number of taste buds, so the difference is in how they process taste impressions. A study conducted by the Danish Science Communication and food scientists from The Faculty of Life Sciences (LIFE) at University of Copenhagen determined that boys require 10 percent more sourness and about 20 percent more sweetness to recognize such tastes.
- You can’t taste what your saliva can’t dissolve: Saliva dissolves the chemicals in food allowing the receptors on your taste buds to detect taste. Without it, obviously, food is tasteless. To see (or taste) for yourself, dry your tongue with a paper towel and attempt to taste dry foods consisting of sugar and salt. It’ll be as if you were devoid of the sense altogether.
- Your back is the least sensitive part of your body: Unlike more sensitive parts of your body, your back contains a very small section of the somatosensory cortex, and thus experiences only minor sensations when touched.
Sources: Livestrong, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), University of Illinois, Medline Plus, Discovery Health, BBC, Pregnancy Today, Live Science, Science Daily, University of Washington, Human Body by Linda Calabresi
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