The Powerful Pyschology of Smell
Posted by Natasha Polak - October 19, 2016
Image credit: Pixabay.com by Khfalk, CC0 Public Domain, Free for commercial use, No Attribution required.
Smells are all around us, and with them come powerful recollections of events and emotions from our past experiences. Such is the case with the scents that usher in the excitement of holiday festivities and the bouquets of flowers gifted to you by someone you love.
But why is it that they bring about such nostalgia? Since smells are received by the olfactory bulb, which runs along the inside of the nose and goes directly to the brain, it’s a short path straight to the two areas that correspond with memories and emotions directly (the hippocampus and amygdala). It’s no surprise, then, that not only do you tend to process smells quickly, but you also react to them just as quickly. Thus they become associated with the memory of what caused them in the first place. In fact, humans are capable of smelling 1 trillion different smells, and the cells responsible for helping you to detect each one renew every 1 to 2 months.
What we smell can evoke both positive or negative experiences and memories, affecting how and what you smell, which is why people’s preferences for certain scents over others varies greatly. The sense of smell is the oldest among the 5 senses (the others being sight, hearing, taste, and touch), with women being better at picking out more scents than men. If ever your sense of smell diminishes, it can signal current or future problems in health with the body and the mind.
Various test-studies conducted on olfactory stimuli all show that smells:
- Hold more power in triggering memories than visual images do
- Can make you ill or facilitate healing
- Can unlock repressed memories
- Which are sweeter tend to be more widely accepted over bitter or harsh smells
Aromatherapy is a successful way of healing the body and mind through the inhalation or application of scents from plants and essential oils. Its practice has long been integrated into medicinal treatments in the Eastern world and places in Europe, and aromatherapy has become more prevalent in the United States since its introduction in the 1980’s. Today, aromatherapy uses essential oils that each have powerful healing properties when used alone or in combination with other scents, and are most often seen in the form of candles, incense, lotions, or oils to diffuse with warm or cool diffusers, or warm teas.
The top 10 aromatherapy scents and their uses for health and wellness include:
- Sandalwood – has a musky, woodsy scent with a calming and tension-relieving effect, and promotes feelings of sensuality
- Rose – distinctly sweet, the scent alleviates depression and anxiety, while aiding with digestion, circulation, and heart health
- Tea Tree – the antiseptic and cloying scent soothes skin infections, cuts, and burns, and it’s used for treating respiratory ailments and illnesses
- Rosemary – with a mix of pine, leaves, and wood, the scent improves mood and memory, soothes cramps and aches, and aids with digestion and congestion or inflammation with the kidneys, gallbladder, liver, and stomach
- Lavender – light and floral, the scent soothes the mind, and aids with lifting depression and anxiety, and for healing against infections and illnesses
- Peppermint – cool and minty, the scent is helps sharpen focus, heals respiratory and digestive ailments, and promotes energy
- Chamomile – mild and soothing, the scent helps to induce calm, digestion, and dispel depression and inflammation
- Ylang-Ylang – sweet and sensual, the scent can lower blood pressure, and ease headaches and nausea
- Lemon – fresh with a burst of sweet and bitter, the scent is by far one of the most popular choices for aiding in digestion, vitality, and to boost the immune system
- Eucalyptus – the cool and minty scent relieves respiratory issues, muscle aches and pains, and headaches, while improving concentration. It’s also a powerful decongestant
How Scents You Love Define You
There is a large market for scent-related products that goes beyond the realm of aromatherapy. People buy the scents they enjoy the most – medicinal or not – and use them as room sprays, perfumes, bubble baths and soaps, cleaners, and deodorizers. These scents remind them of the outdoors, grandma’s famous pies, or their favorite vacations. They relive these experiences as often as they smell these oils to combat other stressors in their lives, including smells they don’t like!
Overall, scents fall into 4 categories. What you like best can also define your personality type. Do you like fresh or fruity scents? Then you are most likely laid-back, you like to have fun, and you possess a good sense of humor. If floral scents are your thing, then you probably consider yourself a hopeless romantic who is full of confidence and vitality. Are you into spicy scents? Then you might just revel in the unique and exotic, and are likely to embrace new experiences. If you like woodsy scents, you can be more passionate, loyal, and understanding when connecting with others.
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