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Jeanette Bates's picture

Other Senses

            What we have learned is how the brain creates action potentials and how those action potentials travel along a neuron and eventually produce a response. We’ve also learned how signals are transferred from one neuron to another. We still have a lot to explore, however. One thing that merits further exploration is what neurons (as in what type of sensory neurons) receive specific signals from the outside world. Personally, I would like to see how these receptors are a part of or contribute to the “other senses:” the senses beyond the five that we are familiar with. I think that I understand the “big five” senses well. We have optical receptors in our eyes, mechanical ones in our ears, and other specific receptors in our body that help us smell, taste, and feel. These I understand, but I don't quite yet understand how the other senses would work. For example, how does the “perception of hormones” sense work? I know that it must-since women’s periods sync and insect males can (seemingly) innately sense a female’s hormones, but I don’t quite understand how these signals are received. Is there something on the inside or the outside of the body that just picks the signals up? I guess this could happen, but it’s hard for me to conceptualize. What I’m wondering is the following: what makes us so sure that our ability to detect hormones is not somehow a part of one of the “big five” senses? We may be able to smell hormones, or to see the affects that they have on someone, without fully realizing that that’s what we are detecting.  I have read studies in which men had to choose pictures of women that they deemed the most attractive, and more often than not, these women were in the middle of their menstrual cycles. These men were nowhere near these women and could not pick up their hormone signals as a result; however, they still thought that the menstruating ones were more attractive. Rather than detecting hormones, they saw the affects of them and became aroused that way.

            I also wonder if our sense of smell might help us to detect hormones. Sometimes, when we are attracted to someone, they seem to “have a nice smell.” And even if we are not aware of the smell consciously, I don’t think that this would mean that it isn’t there. We aren’t aware of everything that touches us, for example. In fact, I think that if we were aware of all of it we would go crazy; however, I don't think that this means that the feeling isn’t there; there just isn’t an awareness of it. Therefore, I think that the sense of smell can detect hormones. I think that our ability to detect hormones is something that may be able to be explained by the five senses, or maybe a combination of the senses.  I’m not trying to say that a separate sense for hormones doesn’t have the possibility of existing, but I won't be convinced that it exists until we discover how humans and other animals pick up on hormone signaling. 

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