Today we will talk about how scents affect our emotions.
While scientists have made significant progress in uncovering the complexities of our olfactory system in recent decades, there is still so much we do not know.
The olfactory system plays a significant role in our emotional experiences. It has strong connections to the limbic system, which is involved in emotions, memory, and motivation.
How is the olfactory system emotionally relevant?
The activation of the limbic system by olfactory signals can elicit emotional responses. Positive or negative emotions associated with specific odors may be triggered, depending on individual experiences, learned associations, and cultural influences. Some odors have the ability to trigger emotional states such as happiness, relaxation, or disgust. For example, the scent of freshly baked cookies might bring about feelings of comfort and joy, while the smell of rotting garbage might evoke disgust or repulsion.
When we encounter a smell, we inhale airborne molecules called odorants. These odorants enter our nasal passages and come into contact with specialized sensory cells called olfactory receptor neurons.
The Olfactory receptor neurons are located in a patch of tissue called the olfactory epithelium, located in the upper part of the nasal cavity. Each olfactory receptor neuron has receptors that can detect specific odorant molecules.
When odorant molecules bind to the receptors on olfactory receptor neurons, they trigger a series of biochemical reactions. This activation leads to the generation of electrical signals in the olfactory receptor neurons.
The electrical signals generated by the olfactory receptor neurons travel along the olfactory nerve fibers, which form the olfactory nerve. The olfactory nerve carries these signals to the olfactory bulb, located at the base of the brain. In the olfactory bulb, the electrical signals from the olfactory receptor neurons are processed and relayed to various brain regions, including the limbic system, which is closely associated with emotions and memory.
The olfactory signals reach structures in the limbic system, such as the amygdala and hippocampus, which are involved in processing emotions and memory.
The amygdala, in particular, plays a significant role in emotional processing and can generate the release of hormones which cause an immediate emotional responses to odors.
Smells can convey and influence emotions in social interactions. Pheromones, chemical signals emitted by animals, including humans, can communicate emotional states and play a role in attraction, bonding, and other social behaviors. Additionally, certain scents, such as lavender or citrus, are often used in aromatherapy to induce relaxation or uplift mood.
The absence or alteration of specific smells can have emotional consequences. For example, the loss of the ability to smell, a condition known as anosmia, can lead to feelings of frustration, isolation, or even depression. Conversely, pleasant smells, such as those found in nature or familiar environments, can contribute to positive emotional states and well-being.
The question remains how do we know what people are feeling when they deploy a certain scent?
Now some companies are creating scents that are using artificial intelligence (AI) and using facial recognition that can target the emotional response that is typically expected. There are even organic systems in the marketplace that have modeled an exact correlation between an olfactory receptor and the expected emotional response.
To be able to track the emotional state of mind for each individual, technology may start with the expected emotional response, through AI and understanding what that scent elicits emotionally. The next step is to create what I call the Emotional Loop. The Emotional Loop is designed to understand when a person uses a connected diffuser, and the expected emotional response is known through AI facial recognition, that the response can be tracked anonymously to what that individual is feeling at the point of deployment of the scent itself.
This becomes a fascinating next step in the journey of understanding how scent affects our lives and when and even where. There can be a lot of factors that can contribute to this phenomenon, such as weather, time of day, country, day of the week. As data is collected on a grand scale of when, where and what is emotion is being sought, more fine tuning of what people are really doing in the marketplace becomes extremely relevant to what brands deliver and when.
It is important to note that the relationship between smells and emotions can be subjective and influenced by personal experiences and cultural factors. Different individuals may have different emotional responses to the same smell based on their unique associations and memories. But there are common ingredients that normally evoke a specific emotion.
Smells can also become associated with a specific emotion through conditioning. For example, if you have a positive experience while being exposed to a particular scent, that smell may become associated with the positive emotion and evoke those feelings when encountered again. Conversely, negative experiences can lead to negative emotional associations with certain odors.