Sniffing balls – a rampant Wimbledon craze

A new craze has started at Wimbledon with tennis stars sniffing new balls as they come out of their cans for their unique smell that “only tennis players can understand”.

Slovakian player Dominika Cibulkova, who can tell by smelling a ball in which tournament it was used, started the trend.

But what role does our sense of smell play in our daily lives?

Although the human sense of smell is feeble compared to that of many animals, it is still very acute.

Our brains translate different smells into feelings. Of all our senses, smell is the most directly connected with memory.

Olfactory region connected to emotion and memory

The olfactory region of the brain, where smells are processed, is connected to many other brain regions, such as those involved in emotion (the amygdala), memory (the hippocampus) and multisensory regions (the orbitofrontal cortex).

Our olfactory system forms a kind of super-highway to memories or emotions. Odour, fragrance and aroma messages are interpreted by all these different parts of the brain to evoke a response in the form of thoughts, feelings and actions.

Fragrances can stimulate emotional experiences. We add meaning to smells through what we associate them with. The scent stands for something – in the case of Cibulkova, probably the excitement of playing in a major tournament with the world watching.

So that’s why certain smells immediately transport us to another time and place – whether it be happy or sad.

The nose and taste

Apart from smelling, the human nose plays a large role in tasting. The taste-buds on our tongues can only distinguish four qualities – sweet, sour, bitter and salt – all other tastes are experienced through the nose by the olfactory receptors high up in our nasal passages.


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