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Hunter-gatherer olfaction is special

Majid, Asifa and Kruspe, Nicole LU (2018) In Current Biology 28(3). p.2-413
Abstract
People struggle to name odors [1–4]. This has been attributed to a diminution of olfaction in trade-off to vision [5–10]. This presumption has been challenged recently by data from the hunter-gatherer Jahai who, unlike English speakers, find odors as easy to name as colors [4]. Is the superior olfactory performance among the Jahai because of their ecology (tropical rainforest), their language family (Aslian), or because of their subsistence (they are hunter-gatherers)? We provide novel evidence from the hunter-gatherer Semaq Beri and the non-hunter-gatherer (swidden-horticulturalist) Semelai that subsistence is the critical factor. Semaq Beri and Semelai speakers—who speak closely related languages and live in the tropical rainforest of... (More)
People struggle to name odors [1–4]. This has been attributed to a diminution of olfaction in trade-off to vision [5–10]. This presumption has been challenged recently by data from the hunter-gatherer Jahai who, unlike English speakers, find odors as easy to name as colors [4]. Is the superior olfactory performance among the Jahai because of their ecology (tropical rainforest), their language family (Aslian), or because of their subsistence (they are hunter-gatherers)? We provide novel evidence from the hunter-gatherer Semaq Beri and the non-hunter-gatherer (swidden-horticulturalist) Semelai that subsistence is the critical factor. Semaq Beri and Semelai speakers—who speak closely related languages and live in the tropical rainforest of the Malay Peninsula—took part in a controlled odor- and color-naming experiment. The swidden-horticulturalist Semelai found odors much more difficult to name than colors, replicating the typical Western finding. But for the hunter-gatherer Semaq Beri odor naming was as easy as color naming, suggesting that hunter-gatherer olfactory cognition is special. (Less)
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author
organization
publishing date
type
Contribution to journal
publication status
published
subject
in
Current Biology
volume
28
issue
3
pages
2 - 413
publisher
Elsevier
external identifiers
  • scopus:85040558756
ISSN
1879-0445
DOI
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
b8caf6b6-5ecf-48c1-bb70-bb5258360ccb
date added to LUP
2018-01-18 15:46:06
date last changed
2018-06-17 05:30:02
@article{b8caf6b6-5ecf-48c1-bb70-bb5258360ccb,
  abstract     = {People struggle to name odors [1–4]. This has been attributed to a diminution of olfaction in trade-off to vision [5–10]. This presumption has been challenged recently by data from the hunter-gatherer Jahai who, unlike English speakers, find odors as easy to name as colors [4]. Is the superior olfactory performance among the Jahai because of their ecology (tropical rainforest), their language family (Aslian), or because of their subsistence (they are hunter-gatherers)? We provide novel evidence from the hunter-gatherer Semaq Beri and the non-hunter-gatherer (swidden-horticulturalist) Semelai that subsistence is the critical factor. Semaq Beri and Semelai speakers—who speak closely related languages and live in the tropical rainforest of the Malay Peninsula—took part in a controlled odor- and color-naming experiment. The swidden-horticulturalist Semelai found odors much more difficult to name than colors, replicating the typical Western finding. But for the hunter-gatherer Semaq Beri odor naming was as easy as color naming, suggesting that hunter-gatherer olfactory cognition is special.},
  author       = {Majid, Asifa and Kruspe, Nicole},
  issn         = {1879-0445},
  language     = {eng},
  number       = {3},
  pages        = {2--413},
  publisher    = {Elsevier},
  series       = {Current Biology},
  title        = {Hunter-gatherer olfaction is special},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/},
  volume       = {28},
  year         = {2018},
}