Surprising Insights from the Five-Senses Quiz

people walking on grey concrete floor during daytime

Do you love to listen to music, but don’t care much about how things smell? Are you a real foodie, but don’t pay much attention to the texture of clothes?

I’m the rare person who rarely listens to music and doesn’t care much about food. But I have a giant collection of perfume samplers, and I visit the Metropolitan Museum every day.

When I was working on my book Life in Five Senses, I became intrigued by how each of us lives in our own sensory world. For one thing, most of us have a special appreciation for one or two of the five senses, and we also tend to neglect one or two of the senses.

With an appreciated sense, we pay attention; we seek new experiences; we enjoy talking and learning about that sense; we turn to it for comfort and pleasure; we use it to connect with other people.

With a neglected sense, we’re much less interested; we rarely turn to it for pleasure or comfort, we don’t spend time exploring or cultivating it. We may be more concerned with avoiding the negative than appreciating the positive.

It can be hard to know ourselves, so to help people (including myself), identify their most neglected sense, I created a free, short quiz: “What’s Your Most Neglected Sense?”

I’ve been fascinated to see the results.

Now, to be sure, these results aren’t scientifically valid. Selection bias! Nevertheless, nearly 50,000 people have taken the quiz, and it’s interesting to consider the patterns in the answers.

When I was developing the quiz for my “Four Tendencies” personality framework, to tell people whether they’re Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, or Rebels, from my observation of the world, I expected that many people would be Obligers and many fewer would be Rebels. This pattern was exactly reflected in the scientifically-validated results.

But with the “Neglected Sense” quiz, my initial hypothesis was wrong. I expected to see one or two senses in the lead as “most neglected.” (I guessed smelling and touching.)

Also, I figured that almost no one would get the result of “seeing.” In humans, the visual system is the most highly developed and occupies the most real estate in the brain. When a conflict arises among the senses, seeing usually trumps. So I thought that no one would neglect seeing.

Wrong! The answers are distributed surprisingly evenly.

One explanation for that result, I discovered, is that people might use a particular sense quite often, for utilitarian purposes, yet nevertheless—or perhaps because of that—they neglect that sense as a source of pleasure, comfort, engagement, or interest.

As one Hollywood producer told me, “I spend my whole day watching and editing. When I come home, I want to lie down, close my eyes, and listen to music.”

Also, I found, some people deliberately neglect a particularly sense. For instance, for some people, particular smells can trigger migraines or allergic reactions, so they avoid smelling as much as possible. Once we recognize that pattern, however, it’s often possible to find ways to tap into the neglected sense in ways that don’t cause problems. I heard from some quiz-takers:

When my result told me that I neglected my sense of smelling, I wasn’t surprised. I have bad allergies and most smells “tickle” my nose. Now I’m making an effort to appreciate the smells that don’t bother me, such as the smells of the ocean or food cooking. It’s such a joy.

I took the Neglected Senses quiz and wasn’t surprised when my result was taste. I have celiac disease which means that I have to avoid gluten while eating and follow strict rules around food-preparation areas and cross-contact. Since my diagnosis I’ve noticed that food, eating, and taste come with a measure of anxiety and stress for me. I’m excited to try to find ways to enhance my experience with taste. I love thinking about enjoying the senses within the limitations of health and/or finding those sensory experiences that can help us appreciate the senses that might feel limiting, etc.

I’m often overwhelmed loud, overlapping, high-pitched, or discordant noises. I think I neglect my hearing on purpose because focusing on it is overwhelming. I want to reclaim my hearing by appreciating the sound of silence, the soft sounds of nature, or wind chimes which I enjoy.

When I looked at the quiz results for the most appreciated sense, however, I found that a few senses dominated. Hearing and tasting clinched the top spots, but not by very much. As for me, those two senses are my most neglected senses—which is probably one reason I wanted to write Life in Five Senses! I could see that people were enjoying the world more than I was.

This revelation underscores a central theme of my book: We each live in a brew of our own sensations.

So here’s a challenge: This week, find ways to engage more fully with your most neglected sense. Click here to take the quiz.



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