We know that aromas can influence our behaviour – for instance, both animals and humans emit pheromones that are designed to attract a mate – but science gets a little more blurry when it comes to the effect of scent on emotions. Can a fragrance make you happy?
So far, no one universal scent has been pinpointed as being able to boost confidence or quell pain and fear, for example.
According to an expert on the psychology of smell and author of The Scent of Desire, Rachel Herz, our reactions to certain smells relate more to psychology and our own unique experiences than any one-size-fits-all response.
That’s because the olfactory system (our sense of smell) is directly connected to the limbic system, a part of the brain responsible for interpreting memories and emotions.
Our reaction to scent is related to the emotions we associate with an aroma, which are formed when we initially come across it, or through frequent exposure to it – for example, the fragrance your first partner wore.
It triggers a memory, which in turn reminds us of how we felt at that time and subsequently influences our mood and our behaviour.
Rachel’s research shows the way we “read” fragrances – whether we see them as pleasant or unpleasant – also relates to the way our brain has perceived them since we were very young.
That reaction typically remains true your entire life. So while some scents have common cultural associations (such as pine needles at Christmas time or the incredibly divisive durian fruit), it isn’t a given that everyone will react to them in the same way.
If you choose a fragrance with notes that have always made you feel positive, or remind you of a happy time in your life, that emotion will be easy to recall.
On a more general level, to generate some common “good feelings” via a perfume bottle, choose from the following suggestions:
To brighten up a dreary day, choose a fragrance that evokes warm summer memories. Solar notes are becoming more popular in perfumes, and are described as a ray of sunshine in a bottle, while sea-salt elements are also being added to fresh fragrances. Zesty citrus will also generally provide an uplifting boost and a hint of coconut could even transport you to a tropical island paradise.
Fresh citrus combined with white flowers is the obvious choice for alertness and energy, but a more modern take can be found in fresh green scents with elements of dew on green foliage or woody-herby notes. Elements of tea are also emerging as a popular new addition to fragrances.
If rose is your first thought when it comes to romantic fragrances, you would be right, but choose carefully – rose can also have staid, stuffy, old-fashioned associations. Choose one with a modern pairing like the more intense patchouli or deeper woods and amber.
Scents that remind us of youth and happy times in our childhood often contain delicious, “edible” notes like vanilla, almond and caramel. They don’t have to be sickly – many gourmand fragrances are modern and chic, with just a touch of sweetness.
Got an important interview coming up, or just want to boost your sense of self-confidence and pride? Choose a slightly left-of-centre scent – a floral oriental, or one with notes of amber, black pepper, coffee or smoky tobacco. They might smell a bit more masculine at first but they’ll make their mark – you won’t be forgotten quickly.
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