woman smelling flowers in field woman smelling flowers in field A scientific phenomenon, or just a fleeting coincidence? (Photo: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock)

Scientists discovered something amazing about left-handed women

Aside from their natural-born awesomeness, of course.

For many years, conventional science taught us that there are parts our brain that are responsible for our sense of smell. They're called olfactory bulbs, and they're known to receive signals from the nose and send them to other parts of the brain, where they're processed. It was widely believed that people who did not have olfactory bulbs could not smell, a condition known as anosmia.

But from a new study out of Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science, we may be able to draw different conclusions about the link between olfactory bulbs and sense of smell. It turns out that there's a small percentage of women who do not appear to have olfactory bulbs, yet still have a normal sense of smell. It also turns out that those women are all left-handed.

American actress and director Angelina Jolie waves to fans as she arrives for the world premiere of her new movie "Unbroken" in Sydney, Australia. Just how different are the brains of left-handed people like actress Angelina Jolie? (Photo: PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)

Now, the co-author of the study, Professor Noam Sobel, is throwing that conventional science into question. “I’m not sure that our textbook view of how the [olfactory] system works is right,” Sobel said.

The phenomenon was discovered essentially by accident, researchers say. The study was originally conducted to examine the link between sense of smell and reproduction using brain MRIs. Among their participants, there was one who didn't appear to have any olfactory bulbs: a 29-year-old, left-handed woman. They asked her if she could smell; she said yes. They conducted further tests; she actually has a better sense of smell than the average person.

They did another study with a similar control group, and again found the anomaly in another woman.

From there, they looked further into MRI results of 1,113 people who claim to have a strong sense of smell. Of those, three of them had no visible olfactory bulbs. They were all women, and one of them was left-handed.

“It started to look like no coincidence," Sobel told LiveScience.


All told, the researchers concluded that if you're female and a southpaw, you have a 4 percent chance of still having a normal sense of smell despite having no olfactory bulbs.

How is this possible, though? "We don’t know how to explain how these women can smell, why it’s primarily women or why it’s more pronounced in left-handed individuals,” Sobel said. But he and his team have some educated guesses.

It could be that the brain is more adaptable than we thought; for people with this condition, it's somehow making up for the lack of olfactory bulbs in other parts of the brain.

It could be that left-handed women's brains are just wired differently. Or, it could be that the link between olfactory bulbs and sense of smell was not as solid as we thought, and that we should study whether olfactory capabilities could be found elsewhere in the brain.

Which brings us back to the Israeli study. Sobel says the next step is to focus squarely on left-handed women, in a larger-scale study to determine how many of these women can still smell despite the lack of olfactory capabilities.

As a left-handed woman myself, I'd certainly support any scientific research that leads to even more evidence of our innate awesomeness.



Photos and SlideshowsPhotos and Slideshows
Scientists discovered something amazing about left-handed women
A study out of Israel found that a small percentage of women have a strong sense of smell despite having no visible olfactory bulbs in their brains.