Scent is a powerful tool. Between my interest in psychology and my use of fragrance in my bath & body products, I decided to compose a post about the psychology behind our sense of smell.
Our sense of smell, or olfaction, is very important to our every day life. We use it distinguish thousands upon thousands of different scents. It can warn us of danger, such as spoiled food or an unseen fire, as well as inform us of something good. Many times our sense of smell is an instinctual or subconscious power. Did you know that it goes into a deeper subconscious level than you may sometimes realize? Complex emotions and memories can be triggered by a simple sensory cue. From the smell of coffee taking you back to Sunday afternoons in your Grandma’s kitchen, to the smell of leather taking you back to your first competitive horse run. Smells are very closely tied into our memories.
Many people undervalue the power scent can have. Fragrances have the ability to bring forth both positive and negative psychological states of mind and reactions in just milliseconds. People may not even notice when buying something such as a lotion that they gravitate toward fragrances based on their personal experiences. The more vivid the memory/emotion attached to a fragrance, the more preferred it is and more likely it is to be purchased by said person
So why are scents linked in with our memories? It is said to be most likely due to our brain anatomy. When scents come through your nose, they are processed by the olfactory bulb which runs along the bottom of the brain. The bulb is connected to two parts of your brain that are involved in memories and emotions, these are the amygdala and hippocampus. Smell is most strongly associated with memories and emotions because they run through these parts of the brain, whereas our other senses do not pas information through these parts of the brain.
While most scent associations are based on your personal experiences and history, there are some cultural smell-related perceptions. For example, North America and Europe heavily associate lavender with being calming and citrus with being bright and invigorating. Meanwhile, Japan associated jasmine with relaxing and rose water as energizing/happy. So some of these things are a learned subconscious (or even conscious) response to fragrance.
Essentially, fragrance is a huge driving factor in our every day life. If it brings bad memories, we avoid it. If it brings good, we flock to it and surround ourselves with it. Whether it boosts our productivity or helps us to relax, we use scent to shape our daily life all the time.