We are all aware that we react to different scents and smells. Those suffering from hay fever will tell you that no matter how much you might enjoy the smell of fresh cut grass, it’s a true nightmare for them. On the other hand, most people enjoy the ocean breeze or blossoming fruit trees. We become particularly sensitive to various scents and smells in spring and summer, when the air is filled with extra moisture.
On the other hand, we also know that some scents make us feel more relaxed and put us in a better mood than others, which is why we buy various products to make our homes more pleasant. Finally, companies trying to sell something use various scents in their retail stores in order to boost their sales. So, how come we are so much affected by scents and smells?
How Do We Detect Them?
Odour molecules that we sniff dissolve and penetrate through the mucus membrane, i.e. the olfactory epithelium. Bony cushions inside the nose assist the intake of air with odour molecules by directing and filtering the air flow. The cilia, hair-like projections attached to receptor cells, bind with the dissolved odour molecules and create an impulse that travels through the olfactory nerves to the olfactory bulb in the brain. Those signals are then processed and passed on to the other parts of the brain.
What’s The Effect?
The key role is played by the hippocampus, which is part of the limbic system. It is associated with the processes of feeling and reacting and it stores two types of memory: declarative and spatial. Declarative memory relates to events and facts, while spatial is connected with routes and pathways. Also, our short-term memories are turned into long-term ones in the hippocampus. Since smell processing is also related to the hippocampus, scents and emotions actually establish a very strong connection as a consequence. That’s why you might feel that certain emotions are evoked when you detect a particular smell.
Why Do Scents Trigger Emotion?
If, for example, you remember a beautiful holiday by the sea, chances are you’ll notice that the scent of ocean breeze or pines makes you feel much more relaxed than others. Consequently, you’ll buy beautiful scented candles or air-fresheners for your car that will, up to a point, recreate the same feeling. Similarly, we all react to smells related to freshly prepared food from our childhood. Fresh baked bread or cookies usually take us back to our childhood, when we felt carefree and well-protected. Naturally, each person reacts in a different way, depending on their own experience.
How Are Scents Used In Everyday Life?
Nowadays, scents are used to elicit emotional responses, especially in advertising and sales. Scientists have discovered that pleasant scents lead to increased sales, which is why almost every retail store has scent machines. Offices and classrooms are also places where you might find different scents, aiming to boost efficiency and productivity. People spending time in such spaces need all the help they can get to stimulate brain activity.
Scents Help Us Relax
Other studies have confirmed that certain aromas actually cause muscles to relax. Naturally, not all people react in the same way, but scientists have been able to conclude that people react to scents regardless of their age. Needless to say, everyone is exposed to stress, just to different types and intensities, which is why we can’t make any general conclusions regarding which particular aroma is great for relieving stress. Basically, you should find the one that you feel most comfortable with and experiment. The fact that you enjoy a particular aroma doesn’t necessarily mean that it will relax you. On the contrary, it may actually make you more alert and energize you. So, try different scents and see which one works for you.
Science has confirmed that scents affect our brain and, consequently, our emotions and feelings. The exact way and intensity with which we react depend on the individual in question, but there is no denying that are all affected.
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Diana Smith is a full time mom of two beautiful girls interested in topics related to health and alternative medicine. In her free time she enjoys exercising and preparing healthy meals for her family.