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The Science of Smell

By HERWriter
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women smelling flowers Photo: Getty Images

The smell of fresh baked bread. The smell of chocolate chip cookies. Coffee. Chocolate. Turkey. Roast beef. Bacon. Apple pie. Cinnamon. Vanilla. Aftershave. Pheromones. Baby powder. These are smells that, for most people anyway, evoke a positive emotional response. Hospital antiseptic, gasoline, burning rubber, sewers, sweat are all smells that usually evoke a negative emotional response.

It is because of these responses that scents are even used to help sell products. That is why grocery stores may put out hot meal samples at strategic time throughout the day. They know at what times people will be hungry and will be drawn to the smell of something cooking. One of the ways of staging a house for a showing is to boil some vanilla or sprinkle some cinnamon in a hot oven so people coming to see your house are greeted by a comforting, relaxing smell.

Why all the focus on smell?

What’s in the Nose?

The scent receptors in the nose connect directly with the limbic system and the hippocampus section of the brain, associated with emotions and learning by association, respectively. Certain smells are relaxing because we were introduced to the smell through a pleasant experience. All future encounters and emotional responses with this particular scent will be positive or negative depending upon the emotionality of the situations in which we have grown accustomed to experiencing the scent.

The following “Did you know” list is adapted from www.air-aroma.com:

- The sense of smell works 24 hours a day and is the only human sense that cannot be switched off.

- The human sense of smell affects 75 percent of daily emotions

- The human nose is believed to be able to detect up to 350,000 chemicals.

- Scenting does not impact judgment, but simply creates a mood which validates the behavioral intentions of the smeller.

- Smell amplifies the sense of taste, which is why food tastes different when your nose is stuffed up.

Smelling the Mood

Market researchers and consultants have long-recognized this emotional connection with scent. Aromatherapy has become an increasingly popular way of stimulating calm and productivity without the use of medications and drugs. But is there any empirical evidence that scents can really encourage certain behavior?

Consider these study results and findings (from www.air-aroma.com, livestrong.com, massagemag.com and aromatherapyusings.com):

- The aroma of baked bread was released in a supermarket in the U.S. with a resultant threefold increase in sales.

- A pleasant aroma was released into the air in an American casino and gambling revenue increased by 48 percent.

- A study of 40 adult faculty and staff members from the University of Miami Medical School showed that those exposed to lavender showed an increase in alpha and beta band activity in the brain or relaxation, while those exposed to rosemary showed a decrease of alpha and beta band activity and reported feeling more alert.

- The smell of eucalyptus cleans out clogged nasal passages. It also reduces coughing and soothes sore throats.

- Japanese scientists have found that combining lavender, eucalyptus and lemon creates clear-headedness and leads to fewer typing mistakes with the lemon smell performing the best in reducing the most typing mistakes.

- “Patients exposed to vanilla scents exhibited more stable blood pressure and heart rates during stress tests than patients undergoing tests without a scented room … use stronger scents like peppermint, jasmine or citrus to … feel invigorated … use green apple scent for pain relief. Patients with migraine headaches experienced less severe and shorter period of pain when they smelled the green apple fragrance,” said Mary Margaret Chappell for the Arthritis Foundation according to www.livestrong.com.

Sources: www.air-aroma.com; Scientific American (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=do-scents-affect-peoples); Livestrong.com (www.livestrong.com); www.massagemag.com; http://aromatherapyusings.com

Add a Comment2 Comments


Thank you for writing a wonderful article.

The use of therapeutic grade essential oils can greatly benefit someone that may have emotional challenges in their lives.

Certain essential oils have historically shown to help with emotions.

Such as Orange, ylang ylang and lavender may help with anxiety.

For concentration cedarwood, juniper, lemon and basil may be beneficial.

For mood swings you might try clary sage, fennel, rosemary, bergamont.

Please read my article https://www.empowher.com/providers/article/healing-spirit-essential-oils

To learn more about essential oils please join on group Everyday Oils for Everyday Living

In Health
Wisdom By Nature

January 23, 2011 - 4:14pm
HERWriter (reply to Wisdom By Nature)

Thank you for your tips. Of course there are many oils and fragrances that I couldn't fit into one article.

January 24, 2011 - 7:34am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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