Knowing little noses
New Scientist, 06 May 2000
be able to hide it from your boss, but your kids can tell you've got a
drink problem -- and it stinks. The children of alcoholics tend to hate
the smell of alcohol, the meeting in Sarasota, Florida, heard.
Mennella and Pamela Garcia of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in
Philadelphia knew that babies whose parents are alcoholics react
differently to toys scented with ethanol from babies whose parents
don't abuse alcohol. To find out how older children felt about the
odour of alcohol, they asked 150 children aged between 4 and 6 to
sample some odours.
Bottles with likeable smells had to be given
to Big Bird, the affable yellow Sesame Street character, whereas
bottles containing bad smells had to be given to Oscar, a character who
lives in a garbage can and likes foul-smelling things.
the children's parents were asked to fill out a questionnaire. Some of
the questions asked about drinking habits, to tease out drinkers who
use alcohol to escape worries from happy, social drinkers.
neither parent had a drinking problem, 66 per cent of the children gave
the beer-scented bottle to Big Bird, indicating that they quite liked
its smell. In contrast, 74 per cent of children of problem drinkers
gave Oscar their bottle, suggesting that they disliked it. Mennella
says these stark group differences didn't emerge with other pleasant
odours such as bubble gum and foul smells such as pyridine.
thinks children are tapping into the emotional context in which they
experience alcohol in the home. "Aversive learning about alcohol may be
occurring at a younger age than previously thought," Mennella says.
"And odours acquired early in life appear to be long lasting."