Scientists have previously theorized that women possess a keener sense of smell than men due to emotional and cognitive influences, but a new study offers an alternative hunch: Women have more brain cells.
Researchers at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil studied post-mortem brains in seven men and 11 women, and found that female brains have up to 50 percent more olfactory neurons than males’, Medical News Today reported.
The olfactory bulb is the first region of the brain to receive signals about odors sensed through the nostrils.
Study authors said the difference in olfactory cell counts between men and women isn’t sufficient to explain why women have a superior sense of smell, but the findings do suggest a correlation.
"Generally speaking, larger brains with larger numbers of neurons correlate with the functional complexity provided by these brains,” said study author Roberto Lent, a biomedical professor at Rio’s Federal University. “Thus, it makes sense to think that more neurons in the female olfactory bulbs would provide women with higher olfactory sensitivity."
Women appear to be equipped with these extra olfactory cells from birth, as the brain doesn’t accumulate more cells with aging.
Why women have this ability built into their brains— and what mechanism generates the higher quantity of olfactory cells in females— are two areas that scientists still need to explore.
According to Medical News Today, researchers theorize that females’ superior sense of smell can help in mother-child bonding, and that it also influences females’ selection of potential mates.
Their study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.