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 Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT

nachricht Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont

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: Electron highway inside crystal

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.

Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth

09.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon

09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution

09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>