Transcript of interview with NPR

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST: Joshua Ackerman, one of the researchers - he says the study was trying to determine if our hearing is as sharp on the matter as our other senses.

JOSHUA ACKERMAN:  There's some evidence that people can detect whether somebody is sick based on how they look and based on how they smell. So we thought it would might stand to reason that we could do this by sound as well.

KELLY: So the Michigan researchers set out to determine if that was true by asking volunteers to judge dozens of coughs and sneezes.

SHAPIRO: They gathered the sick sounds from videos of patients who'd been medically diagnosed. And the uninfected sounds...

ACKERMAN: Were taken from video clips of people who were doing things like plucking their nose hair or inhaling spices like cinnamon or just suffering from allergies.

SHAPIRO: Then they asked the question, could volunteers tell the sounds apart?

ACKERMAN: We found that people were no better than chance at identifying. So, essentially, people were not good at all.

Listen to the interview at NPR.