4 quirky facts about the science of your fragrance
There is a lot of science that goes into scent making, and research is always finding just how impactful scents can be to the human psyche.
Here are four scientific examples that prove just how impactful a scent can be:
1. Scents can increase penile blood flow by up to 40 percent
It’s no secret that fragrances can often be sexualized through advertising and marketing, but believe it or not, science supports the idea that scents can be sexy.
Twenty-four different odorants were chosen for the study along with six combinations of two of the most well-liked scents. Penile blood flow was measured by a subject’s brachial penile index while wearing an odorized mask, compared to the average blood flow while wearing an unscented mask.
The study found that each scent increased some penile blood flow. The combination of lavender and pumpkin pie generated the most arousal with a 40 percent increase in penile blood flow. Doughnut and black licorice came in second at 31.5 percent, and pumpkin pie and doughnut came in third at 20 percent.
Cranberry came in last at merely two percent.
This study concludes that the results may be due to a multitude of mechanisms. The odors could produce a type of Pavlovian conditioned response, reminding the subjects of previous sexual partners or favorite foods.
Either way, fragrances certainly seem to help get the blood flowing.
2. It’s not just for humans: Other animals are attracted to scents, too
Many animals are known to cover themselves in scents for the purposes of defense or predation, but besides humans, do any other animals deliberately use fragrance for pleasure? It appears the answer is yes.
The Wildlife Conservation Society says that big cats are notorious for being attracted to various perfumes and colognes, and sometimes this knowledge is utilized in the wild to lure big cats to camera traps for the purpose of behavioral studies.
Calvin Klein’s “Obsession for Men” particularly seems to be a big hit with the big cats.
This knowledge seems to be well-known in the zoo community. Captive gorillas have also been known to rub perfume sample cards from magazines onto themselves.
It’s hard to say exactly what the takeaway here is, except if any of you men out there are trying to impress a woman who owns a cat, now you know what to buy.
(Shop now: Obsession for men, $32.99)
3. The human nose can detect more than 1 trillion scents
A team at Rockefeller University studied how well humans could distinguish mixes of odor.
The study points out that humans can distinguish several million different colors and about half a million tones. Colors can vary in wavelength and intensity, and tones can vary in loudness. But smells do not have these types of known dimensions, which makes it difficult to pinpoint how many scents humans can distinguish.
An earlier study from the 1920s determined that humans could discern about 10,000 smells, but newer research finds that the human nose is far more discerning than scientists previously thought, finding that humans can distinguish more than one trillion different scents.
Even more incredibly, the study notes that this number most likely represents a lower limit, since only 128 odors in mixtures of 30 or less components were tested.
4. Culture can play a role in what people find pleasant about fragrance
You may have heard that one scent may not smell the same to two different people. Research suggests that this may be due in part to cultural backgrounds.
In one study, researchers from the Center for Research in Neuroscience in Lyon in France and the Montreal Neurological Institute studied scents based on a subject’s rating, non-verbal reactions, activity of facial muscles and heart rate.
The research found “significant differences” between ratings of the same odors between the French and the Canadians.
For example, French people gave wintergreen a lower pleasantness rating. In France, wintergreen is used in more medical products compared to Canada, where it is found in more candy.
The study also suggested that providing the names of the odors to subjects increased ratings of familiarity and pleasantness.
This study reinforces the idea that the brain’s interpretation of an odor is not simply a reaction to the chemical compounds, but it is influenced by both experience and previous knowledge of the scent.
This implies that previous experience and bias play into how humans interpret smell.
What all of these studies teach us is that scents are unique to an individual and clearly evoke emotion, mood and memory.
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