What Scents Do For You?

Scents have an amazing ability to trigger memories and emotions in the human brain. In fact, our sense of smell is directly linked to the part of the brain that processes emotion and memory. According to research, odor-evoked memories are more emotional and evocative than memories triggered by other senses. This is why certain smells can instantly take us back to a specific moment in our past. Scent plays an integral role in our lives in many ways that we don’t even realize.

Scent and Memory

Scents can trigger emotional memories because smell and memory seem to be closely linked in the brain’s anatomy. The olfactory bulb has direct connections to two important regions related to memory and emotion: the amygdala and hippocampus (https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/02/how-scent-emotion-and-memory-are-intwined-and-exploited/).

Research shows odor-evoked memories are more emotional and evocative than memories triggered by other cues like visual or verbal ones. This is likely because the olfactory bulb directly projects into the amygdala, which processes emotion and emotional memories (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK55967/).

In one study, presenting odors that were associated with highly emotional autobiographical memories significantly increased participants’ self-rated emotionality, vividness of memories, and psychophysiological arousal compared to less emotional odor cues or verbal cues (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5039451/).

Smells seem capable of triggering emotional memories we thought were lost to the past, and bringing them back with striking clarity and vividness. This may be why odors can instantly remind us of past scenes, places, and emotions.

Scent and Mood

Certain scents have been shown to significantly boost mood and reduce anxiety and stress levels. According to research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, familiar scents are capable of improving mood and inducing positive emotional states (Sarid, 2016). When we smell a pleasant, familiar fragrance, it activates the brain’s limbic system, triggering emotional memories and responses. This can elevate mood, ease anxiety, and create feelings of comfort and joy.

Studies also demonstrate that odors modulate mood and emotion at both overt and subliminal levels (Kontaris, 2020). Certain essential oils, like lavender and jasmine, have been shown to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. Citrus scents can provide an energizing lift to beat fatigue. Using scented products throughout your home or work environment can positively enhance your overall mood and mental state.

studies show scents can modulate mood and emotion at overt and subliminal levels

Scent and Focus

There are certain aromas that have been shown to improve concentration and focus. Studies suggest lavender can enhance mental acuity and decrease anxiety levels, leading to better focus [1]. The citrus scent of lemon has also been found to boost alertness and concentration [2]. Peppermint is another scent known for its brain-stimulating properties – research indicates it can improve memory retention and increase mental agility when inhaling the aroma [1]. Overall, incorporating scents like lavender, lemon, and peppermint into your space may help sharpen your mind and enhance your ability to pay attention. Targeted diffusion of these energizing aromas can create an environment conducive to productivity and success.

[1] https://www.aerowest.com/does-scent-increase-productivity/

[2] https://www.inc.com/erik-korem/neuroscience-shows-that-nightly-scents-could-boost-memory-help-your-productivity.html

Scent and Sleep

Lavender oil, specifically, has shown to improve sleep quality. In a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, people slept longer and more deeply on nights they were exposed to lavender before bedtime. Lavender’s sedative properties encourage relaxation and sleepiness. Another study found that people exposed to lavender oil while sleeping had fewer episodes of waking up throughout the night compared to people exposed to no scent or other scents like citrus.

Other calming scents like chamomile, vanilla, and jasmine can also promote better sleep. Diffusing these relaxing essential oils in the bedroom at night signals to your body that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep. On the other hand, energizing citrus scents like lemon, grapefruit, and bergamot can disrupt sleep by stimulating brain activity. It’s best to avoid those types of scents before bed.

Overall, calming floral and herbal scents can enhance your ability to fall asleep faster and achieve higher quality sleep. Lavender in particular has proven sleep-boosting benefits. Making your bedroom a relaxing oasis with calming scents is an excellent natural and fragrant way to improve sleep.

Scent and Appetite

Scents can have a powerful influence on appetite and food cravings. Studies have shown that exposure to certain food odors can trigger increased or decreased appetite depending on the type of scent. For example, research has demonstrated that smells associated with sweet foods tend to stimulate appetite and activate brain regions involved in reward, while savory smells are more likely to suppress appetite.

In one study, smelling the scent of pizza led to significantly higher hunger and desire for food compared to smelling a non-food odor [1]. Other experiments found that exposure to sweet food odors like cake, cinnamon rolls and strawberry increased appetite and cravings. In contrast, smells like cheese and meat had the opposite effect, decreasing appetite and thoughts of food [2].

Researchers believe this appetite-stimulating effect occurs because sweet scents activate reward pathways in the brain. Savory odors may suppress appetite by promoting satiety signals. Overall, scents provide sensory cues about the availability and palatability of foods which can automatically influence appetitive behaviors.

Scent and Attraction

Research has shown that natural human body scents can play a role in attraction between people. In heterosexual women, studies have demonstrated that body odor is an important factor in attraction to potential mates. The scents from a male partner can convey information about genetic compatibility and immunity that helps women assess mate suitability on a subconscious level.

Specific compounds like androstadienone, present in male sweat and semen, have been found to influence mood, physiology, and sexual arousal in women when inhaled. The presence of these chemosignals may enhance attractiveness and likeability when there is a biological match (Spence, 2021). Research also indicates women prefer the natural smells of men whose major histocompatibility complex genes differ from their own, maximizing chances of healthy offspring (Wikipedia contributors, 2022).

However, the role of scent in attraction extends beyond just pheromones. The natural smells of a potential partner can also convey lifestyle cues related to diet, hygiene, and health that factor into mate choice. Overall, human scent plays a nuanced but important part in signaling biological compatibility and mate quality.

Scent Marketing

Scent marketing is the practice of using pleasant ambient scents to influence customer mood, perception, and buying behavior in retail spaces like stores and hotels. Research shows that scent can have a powerful impact on consumers. According to one study, using scents in a retail environment can increase consumer spending by 18-20% (https://martech.zone/what-is-scent-marketing/).

For example, many hotels diffuse signature scents in lobbies to evoke a sense of comfort and relaxation. Coffee shops like Starbucks pump the smells of coffee and baked goods outside to lure in passersby. Real estate agents often bake cookies or brew coffee before an open house to make homes seem inviting. Casinos and cruise ships disperse scents that promote excitement and risk-taking. Even grocery stores get in on it – produce sections are misted to make fruits and vegetables seem extra fresh.

The science behind scent marketing is that smell plays a key role in forming memories and emotions. When consumers smell something pleasant, it puts them in a better mood and makes them more likely to stay longer and spend more money. For retailers, signature scents can be part of branding and help create a multi-sensory customer experience.


Aromatherapy involves using extracted compounds from plants, usually essential oils, which are highly concentrated oils from leaves, peels, flowers, and other parts of plants. When these essential oils are inhaled or applied topically, they transmit messages to the brain that relieve, relax, or invigorate (https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/aromatherapy).

The health benefits of aromatherapy include:

– Reducing stress, anxiety, and depression (https://www.healthline.com/health/what-is-aromatherapy)

– Enhancing relaxation and sleep

– Boosting mental clarity and energy levels

– Relieving pain, sore muscles, headaches

– Improving digestion and appetite

– Boosting the immune system against colds and flu

– Clearing nasal and respiratory congestion

Some of the most popular essential oils used in aromatherapy include lavender, peppermint, lemon, rosemary, tea tree, eucalyptus, bergamot, and cedarwood. Research shows smelling these scents can trigger positive emotions, memories, and physiological responses that relieve a variety of ailments.

Choosing Scents

When selecting a scent, it’s important to consider your personal preferences, lifestyle, and body chemistry. Here are some tips for picking pleasant, effective scents:

Focus on scent families that appeal to you. Popular options include floral, oriental, woody, fresh, and citrus. Smell different perfumes within a family to narrow it down (InStyle).

Try before you buy. Test fragrances on scent strips first, then on your skin. Scents interact with your body chemistry, so smell as you would wear it (Vogue).

Consider when you’ll wear it. Fragrances for daytime, work, or special occasions may differ. Pick scents that align with those settings.

Look for personal meaning. Scents tied to positive memories or emotions can be powerful.

Don’t overload. Wear one signature fragrance at a time to allow its notes to shine.

Reapply as needed. Fragrances fade, so reapply sparingly after a few hours if desired.

Give it time. Live with a new scent for a while before committing. Make sure you still enjoy it over time.

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