When we say that something smells fishy, we usually don’t trust whatever it is. Now, science has backed up that saying with proof that fish smells actually make people more skeptical.
Researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Southern California made the find by studying the responses of undergraduate students to questions when the smell of fish oil was present or absent. They used a set of questions, but one specifically was of importance to the study’s findings. Called the “Moses Illusion,” it purposely contained misleading information.
The question was, “How many animals of each kind did Moses take on the Ark?”
Despite the fact that many people know the biblical story of Noah and the Ark, the 30 students who were asked the question without the smell of fish oil present got it wrong — a full 83 percent of them. By comparison, 42 percent of the other group of students noticed the misleading info.
Scientists believe that the smell of fish makes people more skeptical, which could increase the motivation to think things through.
“If I’m distrustful, then I’m thinking, ‘Something’s wrong here.’ And then I have to think more critically and figure out what is wrong,” said Norbert Schwarz, the study’s lead author and provost professor of psychology and marketing at USC, in a release.
The results were not necessarily surprising to the scientists, as the smell of fish seems to be associated with untrustworthiness in many cultures. There are analogs of the “something smells fishy” phrase in more than 20 languages worldwide.
Beyond the smell of fish, scientists say that the smell of rotting food in general can cause skepticism. The smell triggering the suspicion may vary by country, they say.
“We are looking at collaborating with researchers in other countries to learn more about the role of sensory experience in critical thinking,” said Schwarz, in the statement.