The Science and Emotion of Smell

The Nose-Heart Connection. The Science and Emotion of Smell




Everyone has a unique sense of smell, your individual olfactory fingerprint.

Shaped by your biology, childhood and life experiences. Your preferences and reactions to smell contributes to who you are. No two people will have the exact same experience of the same scent.

The surprising thing about smell, is that it is linked strongly to your emotions rather than logic. Have you ever noticed that often you have trouble remembering a name for a smell? Do you generally feel something or experience a memory before you can articulate with words? Get the feeling you’ve been here before? Reminded of a lover from the past? A flashback to a childhood summer at your grandparents house?

The reason behind this phenomenon is because physiologically, smell reaches your emotions before it hits the language centres in your brain. Smells don’t have to go through the switchboard part of our brains called the thalamus like sight, sound, taste, and touch do. Smell goes directly to an area of the brain that processes emotion and memory; the olfactory bulb which is linked to the amygdala (emotions and motivation) and the hippocampus (memory and learning).

The complex relationship between smell and words can be demonstrated by the fact that a human being can distinguish 1 trillion odors. We are even more sensitive to certain scents than dogs. But do humans have a trillion words for smells? No. 

What we find is that long forgotten smells can trigger an emotional response followed by a memory. Smells can vividly bring a person back to your side, transport you to another world, change your mood and mindset. 

Scent branding and marketing is big in many industries, taking advantage of our emotional connections with scent to make a powerful emotional connection with their customers. Think County Road (figs scents proven to encourage more browsing time), Fitness First (peppermint to promote focus and add freshness), Peter Alexander (sugary feminine cosy caramel scents). Most of these scents will have registered in your subconscious, next time take a moment to note how these smells make you feel.

Looping back to your Nose and Heart connection. Now armed with this information, you can consciously take control of your own scent experience and curate your mood with intention. Something so simple but powerful. After the last few years of pandemic life, going in and out of lockdown, working from home, and homeschooling, the world has spent more time in our homes than ever. Scent is a cost effective and luxurious way to make a big impact, no need for a reno or new furniture. Use scent to kick off the start of the work day (something uplifting such as citrus or peppermint and rosemary for focus), mark the end of the work day (switch it up with a scent that transports you away), reset the vibe for entertaining friends, then wind down the mind and body and get ready for sleep (lavender, chamomile and ylang ylang are well documented to help promote relaxation). And now we are able to socialise and entertain more, find your signature scent - something unique and rare - something that leaves an impression and a memory with your friends and guests. Stand out. Don’t smell like your neighbours.