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Enjoying the smell of gas might make you feel a touch of shame or embarrassment. We know smelling gasoline is bad for us, yet a little bit of fuel on the breeze on a cold morning can be pleasant, even comforting. If you know what I mean, then rest in the fact that scientists believe they might now be able to explain why some of us might enjoy the smell of something so clearly toxic. One theory is kind of nice, while the other – not so much. 

A nozzle pumps gasoline into a vehicle at a gas station
Gas pump in Los Angeles | FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Why do we like the smell of gasoline? 

It is worth mentioning that not everyone likes the smell of gasoline. But there are certainly many of us who do. According to the University of Liverpool researchers, the reason for this seems to be both psychological and physiological. 

The Drive explains a phenomenon known as the Proust phenomenon. Named after the French writer Marcel Proust, the idea is that smell can conjure emotions quicker and more efficiently than any other sense. This is because our olfactory system is close enough to the bits of our brain that deal with emotion and memory (amygdala and hippocampus). Since gasoline is somewhat ubiquitous in most Americans’ lives, we likely all have many memories linked with the noxious dino juice. 

There might be a darker reason we like the smell of gas

Now that we dealt with the light and fuzzy reason we might like the sniff of gasoline (no, that’s not the light and fuzzy feeling you get after smelling it), there might be a darker reason. 

We may not like the smell of gas at all. Our brains might be tricking us. Scientists theorize that the small amount of Benzene in gasoline numbs our metabolic system, giving us a sense of brief euphoria. This creates a connection between the smell of gas and feeling euphoric. 

Potentially further proving the theory, the same people who “like” the smell of gasoline also claim to like the smell of nail polish, paint, and tennis balls. Wanna guess what chemical these things have in common? Yep. Benzene. 

Is Benzene bad for you? 

A Serbian boy holds a cardboard with the word "Benzene' written on it. This is one of the chemicals that makes gasoline smell good to us.
A Serbian boy holds a cardboard with the word “benzene” in front of the petrochemical plant | ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP via Getty Images

Benzene is wildly toxic to humans. Pulled by The Drive, the National Institute of Health warns against people breathing too much of this stuff because it can cause “impairments in short-term memory, attention, response inhibition, and problem-solving,” with long-lasting effects “due to solvent-induced loss of white matter volume throughout the brain … with a particularly high level of white matter abnormalities found in the frontal and temporal lobes … regions that are critical mediators of higher-order cognitive tasks.”

This stuff can literally eat your brain. Maybe not exactly like a zombie, but ultimately, not all that dissimilar. 

While I’m not here to shame anyone enjoying the smell of their next fuel-up, do be careful with how much you enjoy it. The juice may not be worth the squeeze on that one. 


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