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Anxiety Might Help People Sniff Out Threats

Last Updated: April 06, 2012.

Small study finds feeling anxious heightens the ability to detect potentially threatening odors.

FRIDAY, April 6 (HealthDay News) -- Anxiety improves a person's ability to smell potentially threatening odors, according to a new study.

Smell is essential to animals in order to detect, locate and identify predators. Odors also trigger powerful emotional responses in humans, the study authors pointed out.

Researchers Elizabeth Krusemark and Wen Li of the University of Wisconsin-Madison exposed 14 young adults to different types of odors while they underwent MRI brain scans. The participants' anxiety levels and breathing patterns were also recorded.

As the volunteers' anxiety levels rose, so did their ability to detect negative odors. The investigators also found that communication between the sensory and emotional areas of the brain increased in response to negative odors, particularly when people were anxious.

This heightened communication between these brain areas could be an important mechanism to boost awareness of potential threats, the researchers said.

The study was published in a recent online issue of the journal Chemosensory Perception.

More information

The Social Issues Research Centre has more about the sense of smell.

SOURCE: Chemosensory Perception, news release, March 22, 2012

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