Smell is a memory of our emotions

Psychologies: What is Smell?

Patrick McLeod: The smell itself doesn’t exist. We perceive it only at that specific moment when molecules of a certain substance coming from the external environment reach the upper part of the cavities inside our nose. This “meeting” lasts only one or two seconds, but it is she who creates the smell and gives rise to our sensations. Thus, we are not talking about a substance’s properties but the phenomenon of its meeting with our olfactory receptors, located five millimetres from the brain. So the smell depends 50% on the substance and 50% on the people themselves. This is a scientifical fact.

And an artificially created scent?

This is a special scent composed by an expert who knows how to create a work of art based on a combination of odorous substances. The scent relates to these substances in the same way as a painting with paints: it’s all about the artist’s vision.

Why are we sensitive to odours?

When we come across a smell, we analyze it on three levels. First of all, pleasant or unpleasant. Then the “qualitative aspect”: are we able to recognize or classify this smell? And finally, the intensity: is this smell so strong that it permeates everything around, or, on the contrary, is it barely perceptible? If the olfactory sensation is not particularly interesting to us, we stop at the first level. But if it leads to some memory, awakens some emotion or disgust, our brain selects it and remembers it.

What is the smell for?

It contributes significantly to the information our brains receive about the environment. This allows us to prepare ourselves to adapt our behaviour accordingly. Memory plays a critical role in this process. After all, by its nature, no smell is either good or bad. Our brain gives the interpretation to it, assigning a certain qualitative definition to the smell. We perceive such a “hedonistic label” only depending on our life experience. So, if a certain aroma turned out to be associated with a feeling for a certain person, then it will forever be imprinted in our memory.

Why do some unfamiliar scents fascinate us while others dislike them?

Perfumers create new compositions based on the cultural context. Using only substances with a pleasant smell or those whose smell is considered to be pleasant, they turn to easily recognizable landmarks: the aromas of flowers, wood, spices. These are all seductive scents that make us like an unfamiliar scent.

Can scent influence our behaviour?

We have never observed the slightest change in behaviour in a person under the influence of the smell of perfume. But we also have no evidence to the contrary.

Why is perfume associated with seduction for some women?

Because perfume simultaneously expands the space occupied by a woman and increases the time of her presence: professionals call this “volume” and “trail”. A scent that declares its presence attracts attention. They remember him later. The woman thus “marks” her territory.

Why is it so difficult to describe the smell?

There can be no consensus on the issue of a specific smell: each person perceives it differently. It is impossible to create an accurate vocabulary for describing smells; you must constantly resort to metaphors. These images, tied to our memories, bring us back to a pleasant or nostalgic moment. Less well known is that smell is directly related to taste: the nasal and oral cavities communicate directly. So smell and taste are closely related. When we find a dish tasty, we can share this feeling with others, but the smell cannot be said for sure – its interpretation remains very personal.

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