The Power of Sense of Smell on Human Behavior
Bread baking, freshly mown grass, flowery perfume. These scents are very often associated with pleasant thoughts of a favorite bakery, a summer afternoon, or a past lover causing us to inhale deeply while the smell conjures up long-forgotten memories. But why does scent seem to elicit such strong emotions?
Scents can affect our work performance, behavior, and mood. Odors elicit responses because of our personal associations with them. An odor has an affect on us because we have associated that odor with a specific event. This is called associative learning – one event or object becomes linked to another based on the individual’s experiences. For example, I have a strong positive response to the smell of coconut because my first exposure to a strong coconut smell was using coconut-scented sunscreen on a vacation in Hawaii. The vacation is a pleasant memory, and I associate the coconut scent with that pleasant memory even though the coconut scent itself is neutral to others. Most people dislike the smell of manure, but the odor might evoke pleasant nostalgia for someone who grew up on a farm and recalls their childhood fondly. Odors can take on positive or negative connotations depending on how the associated event was viewed.
According to the American Psychology Association, the ability to detect chemicals in the environment is common to all living things. The importance of the sense of smell is complicated because we lack the language to describe it well. Comparing a scent to another is almost the only way to describe a scent.
Studies have shown that fetuses in the womb who are exposed to distinctive smelling odors prefer those smells as infants. Those preferences even continue into adulthood.
Also complicating the olfactory sense is the fact that scents pass through the centers for memory and emotion before being processed by the brain. Associated memories and context play a critical role in perception. The olfactory system is well suited to associative learning because it is linked with the limbic system and the parts of the brain that process emotion and promote associative learning. The limbic system is a group of structures in the brain that work in influencing emotion, mood, memory, and behavior. Sometimes it is called the primitive part of the brain because the same structures were found in the brains of early mammals. The sense of smell is the only sense connected in this way which helps explain why smells evoke such strong emotional responses.
How scents effect mood, even well-being ?
Associative learning can make a person prefer one scent over another, but it can also explain how smells influence our moods and behavior. Studies on scent effects have shown that moods influence our thinking and actions. People in a positive mood are more creative than people experiencing negative emotions. Exposing people to a pleasant odor that they liked affected their ability to creative problem solve. Positive mood has been shown to be linked to better productivity and performance. Pleasant odors increase positive behavior such as completing tasks more efficiently and helping others. Exposure to pleasant odors has also been found to enhance performance on complex or tedious tasks. On the other hand, exposure to unpleasant odors impaired judgement and made subjects less patient.
A recent study found that physical health could be influenced by expectations about an odor. Study participants with asthma were divided into two groups that were exposed to a strong fragrance. Half were told the aroma could reduce their asthma symptoms while the other half were told it would make them worse. The participants who believed the scent would aggravate their asthma not only reported more discomfort, but actually experienced more lung inflammation.
Other sensory inputs are tied to the sense of smell. Input from other senses can affect how we perceive odors. The link between sight and smell has been shown to influence the perception of odors. Smelling scented air smelling of rose oil while viewing a picture of a rose intensifies the rose aroma.
Marketers have generally assumed that making products smell good to the consumer will encourage them to buy the product, but research has shown how great an influence the scent effect can have.
The study “Proustian Products are Preferred: The Relationship Between Odor-Evoked Memory and Product Evaluation,” examined the link between lotion fragrance and customer perception. The results found that products with fragrances which evoked strong emotional memories were perceived as superior to the same product whose scent did not provoke the same emotional response. The product that produced the most positive emotional memories was judged by the consumer to be a better product and was remembered better. This scent affect can not only create good feelings in the consumer but can also influence their behavior to remember and buy the products that evoke the best feelings.
Delivering a superior customer experience begins with making an emotional connection with your customers. Emotional connections through ambient scenting can link the heart of customers with the soul of a brand. Ambient scenting through scented air is a powerful way to reach the customer by engaging them through a scent effect on an emotional level.