Quiz: Smell Test

In the early 1980’s, psychologist William Cain conducted a study with students at Yale University to see if they could identify 80 common products just by their scent. Here are the top 20 recognizable odors. See if you can arrange them according to immediately recognizable to least. (See answers at end of article.)


Keep in mind that the participants in this study were college age and the year was 1982. Some smells – like cigarettes – are now considered publicly offensive and less ubiquitous today. Synthetic fabrics have reduced the need to repel moths by filling the closet with smelly mothballs. Even Ivory soap has lost market share to more trendy brands that smell of lemon verbena or a tropical spring. A younger, older, or different culture may name different scents in their list of top 20. It would be interesting to conduct this study in 2017 and see how it differs from 1982.