September 30, 2021

How fragrances touch our emotions

Understanding how smells affect emotions helps to create fragrances that boost the sense of well-being and happiness

Does happiness have a smell? Could it be the scent of suntan lotion with its coconut fragrance reminiscent of the sea, sand clinging to the skin and the warm sunshine? Or is the luscious sweetness of strawberries that evokes the summer vacations and a grandmother’s garden? It might also the scent of freshly-cut grass, newly-sharpened pencils or a myriad of other aromas that make up our personal olfactory vocabularies.

Since the olfactory stimuli are processed by the brain’s limbic system, along with emotions and memories, the connection among them is extraordinarily complex.

Likewise complex are the emotions themselves. According to Dr. K. Scherer of University of Geneva, emotions are about changes in our thoughts and body, and as such, they have both mental and physical effects. They influence our feelings, behaviour and even appearance. Measuring emotions is a complicated task, since the emotional responses are underpinned by our individual experiences. What we have encountered in the past might determine how we respond to a new situation in the present. While emotions are hard to measure, the emotional responses triggered by odours are even more so. Yet, understanding what happiness or other emotions smell like means being able to create perfumes that enhance the sense of well-being. The Research & Development team at Firmenich has been collaborating with specialists and universities around the world. In 2009, the Human Perception & Bioresponses Group initiated the Emodor Programme with the University of Geneva. Emodor explores the physiological, behavioral and psychological dimensions of the odour-emotion relationship.

To trace the emotional response to scents, researchers record physiological measurements on test subjects exposed to different odours. Potential signals and activity in the brain, and the effect of different smells on body heat and heartbeat can be measured using a variety of instruments, including electrocardiography and electroencephalography (EEG). It is also possible to map the emotional responses via implicit behavioural observation, relying on facial expressions, priming and implicit associations.

Since the emotional responses to scents are conditioned by culture, the Emodor Programme also measures subjective feelings by conducting research on how emotions are verbalized in different countries and languages. This is the basis of the patented model ScentMove, which is integrated into other high-precision tools such DNA Emotion, Soulsearch and Emotion 360°.Together, they deliver expected emotion through fragrance, all the while adapting scents to generate desired emotions in specific geographical regions.

The complexity of the connection between scents and emotions is part of perfume’s appeal. The right fragrance transports the consumer to their personal place of happiness and serenity and boosts their mood and confidence. Designing such a perfume relies on a combination of the perfumer’s creativity and the state-of-the-art research, and our team is ready to make our expertise available to you. Let your fragrances inspire positive, uplifting emotions.

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