Have you ever noticed how scents affect your mood? Perfumes or colognes can evoke feelings of happiness if they remind you of a loved one. The buttery smell of cupcakes can evoke feelings of warmth and comfort. The mood for your home or business can be influenced by the ambient fragrance you choose. This connection between odors and moods is not just an imagined link. Although the science behind odor processing is still not fully understood, the way our brain processes smells reveals just how closely tied our nose is to our emotions.
Odor Learning Starts Before We Are Born
Studies have shown that we learn about odors when we are in the womb. Flavor compounds derived from the maternal diet get incorporated into the amniotic fluid and are introduced to the developing fetus. Distinct-smelling substances, such as liquor, cigarette smoke, and garlic, are preferred by infants whose mothers ingested these substances versus infants whose mothers avoided them. We make connections to particular scents before we are actually exposed to the natural world.
Scents Are Processed by Our Memory and Emotion Centers Before We Are Aware of Them
Most of our sensory information, such as sight and sound, gets initially processed by our thalamus, which is our brain’s main switchboard. On the other hand, scents actually bypass the thalamus and travel straight to the olfactory bulb, which is a part of our limbic system. Scents are then processed by the amygdala, which is responsible for our emotions, and our hippocampus, which plays a major role in memory and learning. Scents undergo a lot of basic processing in our brains before we even become aware of them. By the time we identify a particular scent, this scent has already activated the limbic system, triggering a deeper emotional response to that smell.
Electrophysical Studies Show That Scents Can Affect Our Brain Activity
Our sense of smell has been shown to play a role in mood, stress, and even productivity, as evidenced on an electroencephalograph. Studies have demonstrated that fragrances can, directly and indirectly, affect both the mental and physical conditions of humans. EEG studies have also revealed that certain smells can spontaneously change brainwave activity and are causes for different states of our brains.
Associative Learning Initially Influences How Scents Affect Your Mood
To have a response to a certain smell, you must first learn to associate that smell with a particular event. This process refers to associative learning, in which we link an event, person, or thing to a certain scent depending on our past experiences. This mental partnering creates a conditioned response. For example, the smell of cotton candy can be associated with a fun and happy time at a carnival. That cotton candy odor then becomes a conditioned stimulus for feelings of delight.
This mechanism demonstrates how scents affect your mood and how also how odors can become favored or disliked.
The following mechanisms of associative learning can also affect how we process scents:
- Context: The majority of people consider cow manure to have an extremely offensive fragrance; however, people who grew up on farms may associate this smell with feelings of nostalgia and warmth. In short, our past experiences have a strong influence on how we experience certain odors.
- Expectation: Altering the label of a particular odor can affect how you perceive that odor. If someone held up a cup of parmesan cheese to your nose and stated it was vomit, chances are you would react negatively. If that same cup of parmesan cheese was presented as an awarding-winning masterpiece, you would probably react much more positively and actually enjoy the smell of the cheese.
Your Productivity Can Depend on How Scents Affect Your Mood
There has been increasing evidence that a positive mood is correlated with increased productivity, performance, and even altruistic behaviors. On the other hand, a negative mood is correlated with the reduction of prosocial tendencies.
Interestingly, pleasant odors have been associated with enhanced productivity and prosocial behaviors. For example, people exposed to smells of baked goods or fresh coffee were more willing to help a stranger than people who were not exposed to these nice smells. Moreover, employees who are working in a room with a sweet-smelling air freshener tended to set higher goals, utilize more efficient work strategies, and even report higher self-efficacy.
Pleasant ambient odors have also been demonstrated to increase attention during mundane tasks and improve performance on word completion tests. However, foul ambient odors increased mood changes and decreased the tolerance level of study participants.
How Scents Affect Your Mood Also Impacts Your Perception of Others
Some studies have shown that your perception of other people can actually be skewed depending on your exposure to a pleasant ambient smell. Subjects exposed to nice-smelling fragrances tended to assign higher “attractive ratings” to people in photographs. Conversely, subjects exposed to uninviting smells tended to give lower attractive ratings to the people in photographs and also to judge paintings as being less professional.
Pleasant Scents Can Improve Your Mood, Productivity, and Well-Being
Ambient odors have been shown to influence mood states in both a positive and negative way. Because the majority of the population spends most of their time indoors, indoor air quality is an important factor to monitor in your home. Past studies have shown that your perception of indoor air pollution is influenced by human body odor, ventilation systems, indoor smoking, and other human activities.
Surrounding yourself with delightful fragrances can positively influence how scents affect your mood, productivity, and perception. At Whole Home Scenting, we developed home air freshener systems designed to envelop your entire home with a bouquet of pleasing ambient odors. We improve your air quality at home so that you feel better and look forward to coming home every day.
Contact us for any questions you have and to discover the best option for freshening up your home.