Scent research has given us some amazing information about how humans process and respond to olfactory stimulation, especially as it relates to emotions. Consider the following, taken from The Smell Report, a publication of the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford, England:
- Our olfactory receptors are directly connected to the limbic system, the most ancient and primitive part of the brain, which is thought to be the seat of emotion. Smell sensations are relayed to the cortex, where ‘cognitive’ recognition occurs, only after the deepest parts of our brains have been stimulated. Thus, by the time we correctly name a particular scent as, for example, ‘vanilla’ , the scent has already activated the limbic system, triggering more deep-seated emotional responses.
- Studies have demonstrated that although subjects do respond to some extent to odourless placebos which they think are fragrances, the effect of the real thing is significantly greater. The thought of pleasant fragrances may be enough to make us a bit more cheerful, but the actual smell can have dramatic effects in improving our mood and sense of well-being.
- Although olfactory sensitivity generally declines with age, pleasant fragrances have been found to have positive effects on mood in all age groups.
The mood-improving effects of pleasant smells may not always work to our advantage: by enhancing our positive perceptions and emotions, pleasant scents can cloud our judgement. In an experiment in a Las Vegas casino, the amount of money gambled in a slot machine increased by over 45% when the site was odorised with a pleasant aroma!
- In another study – a consumer test of shampoos – a shampoo which participants ranked last on general performance in an initial test, was ranked first in a second test after its fragrance had been altered. In the second test, participants said that the shampoo was easier to rinse out, foamed better and left the hair more glossy. Only the fragrance had been changed.