For Real! Our senses overlap

Spring 2017

This doesn't smell/taste/feel/look right.


For generations, kids forced to eat every last bite of a dinner they dislike have been savvy to the nose-holding trick: If you can’t smell a food, you can’t taste it very well, either. Without even trying, they’ve discovered that taste and smell are strongly connected to each other. In fact, all of the senses—taste and smell, but also sight, hearing, and touch—are part of the sensory nervous system, and are linked together.

Our sensory nervous system helps us decode the world around us and figure out how to respond to it. We may get our first cues about the flavor of broccoli by smelling it, but our brain also decides whether it’s delicious enough to swallow (or not!) by evaluating how it looks on our fork, feels in our mouth, and sounds as we chew it.

Some people have a condition called synesthesia, in which their senses actually overlap. Some synesthetes see each letter of the alphabet as having its own special color. Some feel an itch when they hear piano music. Some taste strawberries every time they see a chair. Do you think these different abilities would be annoying to live with? Or would they be more like superpowers? 

Auditory physiologist Thanos Tzounopoulos helped us see deep into our senses.

For Real! is Pitt Med's science section for preteens and the ever-curious. Is there a topic you'd like us to explore? Drop us a line: medmag [ A T ]