THE POWER OF SCENT
The scent of flowers when you walk through an open field, the captivating scent of freshly brewed coffee that helps you through the day, the scent of your favourite food or perfume, all reminders of time or place.
How does it work?
Scent works with your sense of smell. Upon detecting a smell the olfactory neurones in the upper part of the nose generate an impulse which is passed to the brain along the olfactory nerve. This message arrives first at a part of the brain called the olfactory bulb, from there, the signal is processed and information passed about the smell to other areas closely connected to it, collectively known as the limbic system.
The limbic system comprises a set of structures within the brain that play a major role in controlling mood, memory, behaviour and emotion. It is often regarded as being the primitive, part of the brain, because these same structures were present within the brains of the very first mammals.
Scent and memory
The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses.
Have you ever caught a whiff of something that instantly takes you back to an old memory?
Studies have shown that people can remember a scent with 65% accuracy after 1 year while visual memory sinks to 50% after only a few months.
The smells we experience play a crucial role in how we associate with memories and places. It acts as a trigger in recalling a long-forgotten event or experience.
The scent of an orchard in blossom conjuring up recollections of a childhood picnic or the smell of a perfume reminding us of loved.
In his book ‘Remembrance of all Things Past’, Marcel Proust wrote that a bite of a madeleine vividly recalled childhood memories of his aunt giving him the very same cake before going to mass on a Sunday.
Scent and Emotion
Smell is also highly emotive. In fact, the perfume industry is built around this connection.
Did you know that smell has a strong influence on the emotions we feel in our daily lives?
In an interview with “Men’s Health”, Dr Hirsch said “The part of the brain that smells and tastes is part of the emotional brain where our personality lies”.
Research has shown that even our body odour, produced by the genes which make up our immune system, can help us subconsciously choose our partners.
Scent and Productivity
Our senses of smell is so powerful that it can affect our productivity in work environment.
Specific smells such as the smell of coffee, have been found to increase alertness which in turn results in higher productivity.
A study showed that when lemon oil was diffused throughout a Japanese office building, productivity among data entry operators increased by 54%.
We often take our sense of smell in our day-to-day lives for granted, and rely more on their senses like sight and hearing. Whilst those senses are great, life would be very unpleasant without our sense of smell.
Imagine a life of never being able to smell. No smells of your flowers, food, coffee, gas leakage or rotten milk. How depressing!
It is the sense of smell that guides our food choices, that wets our appetite and unconsciously drives us to our favourite coffee shop or restaurant.
Smell again can detect warning messages from that bottle of milk left too long in the fridge or give away the pretended freshness of fish.
Without the sense of smell, we would miss a lot of interesting experiences, emotions, and pleasure; our life would lack a whole dimension.