Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Scents and Emotions Linked by Learning

06.01.2005


Whether emotional responses to scent are a product of nature or nurture is a matter of scientific debate. But a Brown University study, published in the current issue of the International Journal of Comparative Psychology, comes down on the nurturing side.

In an experiment that involved computer games and custom-made scents, researchers found that responses to new odors depended on emotions experienced while the new odor was present. If participants had a good time playing the game, they were more likely to report liking the odor they smelled. If they had an unpleasant experience, they were more likely to dislike the scent.

“As humans, we’re not immediately predisposed to respond to a scent and believe that it is good or bad,” said Rachel Herz, a visiting assistant professor of psychology at Brown and the lead scientist of the study. “When we like or don’t like a smell, that is learned.”



Herz conducted two experiments to test her theory of olfaction. The first included 30 female participants. All were asked to smell five scents, infused in cotton in glass jars, and rate them on a 9-point scale for pleasantness, familiarity and intensity. Most odors were familiar and pleasant – rose, vanilla, lemon and peppermint. But one was new: a unique mix of odors that included dirt, rain and hot buttered popcorn. The result was a sweet, dank, slightly unpleasant scent.

Participants were randomly assigned into groups. The experimental group entered a room where the new scent was dispersed in the air by a hidden machine. Then they played a card game on a computer. The game was rigged for fun, using humorous sound effects and smiling faces. This same group, in a later session, was shown a compilation of scenes from the comedy “Something About Mary.” Again, the strange scent was gently piped into the room.

Three control groups were used. The first group also played the game and watched the film, but no smell was present. The second group was exposed to the scent but watched neutral nature documentaries during both sessions. The third sat in an odorless waiting room with different magazines during the sessions.

The second experiment was similar, but it included 36 participants, both men and women, and tested two new scents. One was slightly floral. The other had a clean, watery smell. All participants rated these scents – as well as rose, vanilla, lemon and peppermint – in a pre-test. Participants rated the new scents as both unfamiliar and pleasant.

Then one group entered a scented room and played a computer card game designed to be frustrating. The sound effects were annoying and it dealt losing hands. The second group sat in a scented room and read magazines. In both groups, half were exposed to the floral scent, the other half to the watery one. The third group played the computer game in an odorless room. All participants either played the computer game or read magazines in three sessions spread out over the course of a week. After each session, they rated the six scents.

The results: In the first experiment, Herz found participants who played the game and watched the film clips were more likely to rate the new odor – even though it was slightly unpleasant – as enjoyable and familiar compared with control groups. Results were similar in the second experiment. After playing the frustrating game, participants were more likely than control groups to score the pleasing new odors as distasteful – a negative association that grew over time.

Bottom line: When an odor is paired with an emotional event, perception of that odor was altered to fit that association.

Herz wasn’t surprised. Little rigorous data exists, Herz said, to back a genetic theory of odor and perception. Herz said cultural studies of olfaction also back her results. Americans, for example, tend to like the smell of wintergreen, a common ingredient in candy and gum. Yet in Britain, where wintergreen is often used to make medicine, the odor is less pleasing.

“We can see that this is true from personal experience, as well,” Herz said. “Some people may smell a rose and be reminded of their father’s funeral. Others may like the smell of skunk because they have a positive attachment to it from childhood.”

Herz said there are a few exceptions to this theory. Irritating odors, such as ammonia, may be immediately disliked when smelled. Individual genetic differences may also play a role in emotional responses to odors.

Herz said the study adds to science’s mounting understanding of olfaction. Results, however, may also be of interest to marketers. Herz said retailers and restaurateurs want to offer a pleasant experience. A small but growing group, Herz said, use signature scents to create a positive association with consumers. “Using odor to improve mood has industrial applications,” she said. “Scent could even be used in schools or hospitals to improve performance or speed recovery.”

Herz conducted the experiments with the assistance of Sophia Beland, a former research assistant at Brown, and Margaret Hellerstein, a former Brown undergraduate. Oakland Innovation, a British consulting firm, funded the research.

Wendy Lawton | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.brown.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)

nachricht Reusable carbon nanotubes could be the water filter of the future, says RIT study
30.03.2017 | Rochester Institute of Technology

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

Im Focus: Using graphene to create quantum bits

In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.

In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Physicists discover mechanism behind granular capillary effect

24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Measured for the first time: Direction of light waves changed by quantum effect

24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>