6 Examples of How Smell Affects Mood - Whole Home Scenting


6 Surprising Ways Smell Affects Your Mood

Of your five senses, your sense of smell has the strongest direct link to some of the deepest parts of the brain. For decades, researchers largely ignored this link. In recent years, however, scientists have begun to unravel the secrets of how smell affects mood and how this connection impacts human emotions and behaviors.

Have you ever smelled a familiar scent from your childhood and felt like you were briefly transported back in time? Maybe you’ve passed by a restaurant and felt your stomach rumble, even if you weren’t hungry. Both experiences are examples of the intense connection between your nose and your brain. The smells you encounter throughout your day have a significant influence on your mood, emotions, and behavior, even if you aren’t consciously aware of smelling anything. Once you understand scent’s role in the way you feel, you can start to take advantage of the power of smell in your daily life. Learn six ways that scent affects your mood.

Scent and Your Brain: The Physiology of How Smell Affects Mood

Scents can affect your mood and brain.

Researchers estimate that 75% of all human emotions are generated by smells. This is due to the unique anatomical connection between your olfactory bulb, which processes incoming scent information from your nose, and your limbic system, which regulates emotion and memories. This connection causes humans to experience and remember scents differently than any other sensory information, through a process known as associative learning.

Olfactory Anatomy

When you smell something, the scent receptors inside your nose pass information about the smell along your olfactory nerve to your olfactory bulb, located in your brain. The olfactory bulb processes the information and distributes it to other areas of the brain. The closest of these areas, with the strongest olfactory ties, are the hippocampus and the amygdala, which together make up your limbic system. Your limbic system controls your emotions, memories, and associations.

Smell is the only one of your senses that is routed directly through the limbic system. Your visual (sight), auditory (sound), and tactile (touch) sensory information never passes through the limbic system at all. Instead, all this other sensory information is transported directly to your thalamus, the part of the brain responsible for consciousness and awareness.

This explains how smell affects mood so strongly. The unique olfactory-limbic connection is why you aren’t typically aware of all the scent information your body is processing, and why there are so many scent-related associations that take place subconsciously. It’s also why it’s so hard to come up with words to describe the way something smells.

Associative Learning

Because scent information passes through your limbic system first, instead of heading straight to your thalamus like all other sensory input, your response to smell is entirely associative. This means you can only react to a scent by associating the smell with something else.

Most of your scent associations were formed before you were 2 years old, when you were too young to store specific visual or auditory memories. The specific associations consequently fade away, but the scent and mood cues remain. This type of associative learning may explain why some people dislike a certain scent, while others love the very same smell.

Don't Fragrance Your Home Until You've Eliminated These Five Common Odor Areas.

In 5 easy steps, we show you how to get your home ready for scenting, so you can be confident it smells the way you want.

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Scent and Your World: How Smell Affects Mood and Behavior


As a result of your brain’s anatomy, smell and mood are tied together as a single sensory response package. The situations below are examples of this phenomenon.

1. Smells Can Spark Memories

Because scents are processed in the part of the brain that’s responsible for memories, smell and memory go hand in hand. Studies indicate that, even after an entire year has passed, humans can recall scents with 65% accuracy. Not surprisingly, smell is the most likely sense to provoke a strong memory of a moment, feeling, person, or event. Smells have also been shown to improve memory for people taking tests.

2. Scent May Boost Your Confidence

The personal fragrance industry generates billions of dollars each year thanks to how smell affects mood and self-perception. Wearing a certain perfume or cologne, or using a particular detergent or aftershave, can make you feel sexier, more attractive, and more confident.

3. Smells Can Serve as Warnings

Have you ever had a strong “gut feeling” about a person or situation? Human skin, tears, and sweat give off pheromones and chemical signals about feelings, fears, and even illness. Your nose subconsciously notices these signals from other people, leading you to experience a mood that, while you can’t explain it, is too intense to dismiss.

4. Scents Can Help You Relax

Just as some smells can put you on high alert, other smells can help you feel relaxed. While people experience smells differently, some scents have a near-universal effect on people’s moods. Lavender, for example, tends to elicit a calming response in most people and is often used to aid meditation or sleep. Comforting scents, such as vanilla, have been shown to reduce anxiety and even increase tolerance to pain.

5. Smells May Trigger Deep Subconscious Emotions

If you’ve ever suddenly felt anxious, sad, or overjoyed for no apparent reason, your nose was likely to blame. A sudden, inexplicable change in emotions is an example of how smell affects mood, even if you’re not conscious of the smell or the emotional connection.

6. Scents Can Make You Hungry

Did you know that you taste foods and drinks with your nose, not your tongue? Your sense of smell is responsible for the way you experience flavors and can make you feel hungry even when you aren’t. This is why the taste of a favorite food can have such strong emotional ties, and why the concept of “comfort food” exists. This is also why people can react differently to tasting the same food.

Home Scenting: Take Advantage of the Smell-Mood Connection

The smells in your environment can have a profound influence on your overall mental state. Put your knowledge of how smell affects mood to work for you by filling your home with a scent that lifts your spirits. Contact us today to get started.

Photo credit: Kelvin Valerio (man outside with a hat), Anna Shvets (woman in a yellow sweater)
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Don't Fragrance Your Home Until You've Eliminated These Five Common Odor Areas.

In 5 easy steps, we show you how to get your home ready for scenting, so you can be confident it smells the way you want.

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