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Scents and Scentsibility

Posted April 08, 2016 8:00 AM by BestInShow

When I work in my home office, I usually light a candle. I do this in part because I like the scent and in part because I've read that certain scents improve productivity. Why, I wondered, does peppermint reputedly help someone focus better than honeysuckle or popcorn or that old fave from the '60s, patchouli? As usual, my search branched off in unexpected directions. I discovered that unraveling the science behind our sense of smell earned a 2004 Nobel Prize for two scientists. And on a less-grand level, marketers, not surprisingly, use scent as another arrow in their quiver of tools to get us to buy stuff. And in 2013 a British company commissioned a specific workplace fragrance (Ascent) from a master perfumer. This is serious business.

Physiology of smell

Richard Axel and Linda Buck were awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology, "for their discoveries of odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system." Their research was on gene coding for proteins expressed exclusively in the olfactory epithelium. Humans have around 300 genes that cooperate in identifying smells. The laureates discovered that each gene codes for one type of olfactory receptor, and each receptor "recognizes" a limited number of odorants.

Receptors are protein chains whose shape alters when an odorant substance attaches itself to the receptor. Only receptors genetically programmed to recognize the odorant will be activated. These receptors send these bits of information to the olfactory bulb in the brain. The brain, in turn, recognizes the different chemical components and combines the bits into a completely individual smell.

This intricate system enables humans to recognize 10,000 individual smells and to remember a new smell with 65% accuracy after a year. Don't be overly impressed. Dogs possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in us. And the dog's olfactory bulb is, proportionally speaking, 40 times greater than ours.

Humans and scent

The sense of smell is the first sense that we humans (and other mammals) use. Think about it. Evolutionarily, being able to find one's mother, or sense an enemy, from birth is critical to survival. Being able to remember significant scents -- and dangerous smells - is equally important. The close connection between the olfactory bulb and the limbic system, a part of the brain that governs emotion and memories, accounts for our ability to learn and remember smells.

Based on personal observation, I'm well aware that humans remember scents and that these scents often evoke emotion, even long after the original exposure or the event that connected the scent to the emotion. Every time I peel an orange or a tangerine, I think of Christmas mornings when I was a kid. How much of what we read or hear do we remember that vividly?

Scent marketing

Scent memory is one attribute that marketers exploit. One example: a luxury-goods store that pumps in the aroma of old leather, among others. Old leather evokes craftsmanship. Do not think that scent marketing nabs just the marginal customers who might not otherwise buy something. Research proves that people buy more in an appropriately-scented environment compared to an eau de ordinary shopping mall.

Back to Scent and Productivity

A number of well-regarded empirical studies have established that, even if we cannot yet explain why, some scents do improve various aspects of productivity at work.

Masahiro Tanida and Masako Katsuyama of the Bioengineering Research Laboratories, at the Shiseido Life Science Research Center, in Yokohama, in conjunction with Kaoru Sakatani of the Department of Neurological Surgery, at Nihon University School of Medicine, tested the effect of a "pleasant, floral green" scent on volunteers

performing a mental arithmetic problem. Over the four-week course of the experiment, the researchers measured stress reduction in the experimental group.

A handful of other studies focused on cognitive performance and accuracy. Cinnamon and peppermint scents generally improved attention and memory. Typists exposed to peppermint typed faster and more accurately than the control group. Another study found that females responded better to lavender in tests of memory and accuracy; men responded better to peppermint.

Several less-rigorous surveys expand the range of productivity-inducing scents. The effects of the suggested scents are usually either stimulants - peppermint, citrus, cinnamon, eucalyptus - or stress-relievers - lavender, rosemary, and jasmine. Some lists are more inclusive, but this set of seven scents is the core of the productivity-enhancing arsenal.

Why Does Scent Work?

My search for empirical research explaining why some scents increase productivity in the workplace did not turn up definitive answers. A number of the scent marketing studies posited that the memories and associations between specific scents, such as evergreen trees and the Christmas holidays, put consumers in a happy place, so to speak, and happy people are more inclined to spend money. Do we work better because we're feeling less stressed or happier?

I haven't conducted any unscientific studies on myself and my home office. I did once engage in a slightly different kind of scent experiment. I'd read that the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia concluded that two scents, pumpkin pie and lavender, were the most attractive to men. I conscientiously wore lavender the whole time my husband I and were dating and, well, he's my husband now. Did the lavender tip the scales in my favor? If it did, I'm glad it worked out.

Resources

http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2004/illpres/index.html

https://www.ted.com/talks/luca_turin_on_the_science_of_scent?language=en

http://productivitytheory.com/10-aromatherapy-scents-to-increase-productivity/#

http://us.moodmedia.com/scent-research.asp

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www.nobelprize.org

Ambiente Bio

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#1

Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/08/2016 10:23 AM

"I'd read that the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia concluded that two scents, pumpkin pie and lavender, were the most attractive to men."

What, was bacon not available to these guys?

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#2
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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/08/2016 11:55 AM

Rather fond of Ammonium Nitrate and Diesel fuel with just a splash of mayhem for a morning pick me up myself.

Evenings, I 'm more of relax by a crackling tire fire kind of guy.

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#3
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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/08/2016 12:03 PM

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#4

Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/08/2016 12:39 PM

In comparison to vision and hearing, the sense of smell is very poorly understood. Light is easily sorted into colors and sounds into frequencies, but it is very difficult to classify odors.

An interesting read on the subject which I enjoyed and highly recommend:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/14546.The_Emperor_of_Scent

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#7
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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/08/2016 3:46 PM

I'm glad to know you enjoyed this book; I've put it on my vacation reading list. In the course of researching this blog post, I watched a TED talk given by Luca Turin, the subject of The Emperor of Scent. His notion of how scent is transmitted is by waves, similar to light, and the talk was a brief exposition on this (controversial) theory. Considering how important the sense of smell is to animals, our lack of understanding does not seem to have attracted as much research as other senses.

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#8
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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/08/2016 4:26 PM

Turin's theory is that part of the sense of smell is somehow tied up with the infrared resonances of the odorant molecule.

This theory can be tested by replacing hydrogen with deuterium, a heavy isotope of hydrogen. Deuterium weighs twice as much as hydrogen but is chemically identical, varying the molecular resonances without changing the shape of the molecule.

There is some evidence that these deuterated molecules "smell" different than the unmodified molecules. Unfortunately, smells are subjective and it is difficult to prove an effect that cannot be recorded with scientific instruments.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vibration_theory_of_olfaction

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#10
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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/08/2016 4:47 PM

I ordered a copy of the book and I think I'll read it before vacation. This is getting increasingly interesting.

Is the vibrational theory of scent compatible with the Nobel research describing why different scents smell different, and the multiple combinations of scent sub-particles that result recognizable scents? I sense (no pun intended, but I'll take it) another blog post coming on. Thanks, Rixter, for your input, most intriguing.

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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/11/2016 9:39 PM
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#5

Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/08/2016 12:46 PM

We have an essential oil diffuser in our home, and while working from home I'll often use it to create a more pleasant atmosphere. I typically use peppermint, as it's supposedly the only oil that "cleans" the air, but I'll sometimes use more robust ones like tea tree oil or frankincense. I'll have to pay more attention to my productivity next time I diffuse some peppermint...there might be a correlation for me.

On the other hand today's been an unusually productive day, and my house smells like cat litter and dirty dishes...maybe the productivity's in my head, not my nose.

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#11
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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/08/2016 4:55 PM

Ironically, I finished writing this long-overdue blog post during an unusually-long stretch of focused attention ... at the office, devoid of any aromas other than whatever was emanating from the break room. Sometimes l'eau de la litiere isn't all that bad.

Perhaps the more apt question is whether a scent can induce concentration when one is having an ADD attack. That's something with which I could easily experiment.

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#6

Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/08/2016 3:36 PM

Barbecue pork ribs smoking on the fire.....vanilla...citrus...fresh cut grass....fresh cut wood....beach....honeysuckle in bloom....gardenia flowers....

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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/08/2016 4:40 PM

Growing up on a farm, the Smell of freshly baled hay, milking done, 7:00 in the evening, 80 degrees with a nice breeze, as your walking through the yard was very relaxing.

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#12

Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/09/2016 4:13 PM

I eat lunch at my desk every day at work. Mexican, Thai, Greek etc.

I light a coconut candle after I've eaten the lunch to kill any latent food odors.

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#14
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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/10/2016 1:46 PM

zest of lemon, will do just wonderful.

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#13

Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/10/2016 1:43 PM

The worst scent you can ever smell is from a person beside you. Who's got the dynamite in his underarm. I mean, it's not common in colder countries, but if you've been to southeast asia. It's really a scent to start up the morning with bad luck.

The nicest scent, I like is from a teen virgin aroma early in the morning(there is a french movie on this, I just forgot the name). Other than that Basil, lemongrass and lavender are top on my list. And, freshly brewed beer before I forget.

Some are sniffers of dirty laundry

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#15
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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/10/2016 2:06 PM

I was in an unconditioned conference room with our salesman who must buy his cologne by the Gallon. That should come close.

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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/10/2016 2:27 PM
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#17

Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/10/2016 10:29 PM

The crap they sell women and call it perfume has to be some of the most offensive smells on the market. Some would more fitting to be used as a bear attack deterrent than a man attractant. Avon is at the top of my list, it's worst than a burning cigarette or an old ash tray! And, I still smoke! They are the reason hospitals, medical offices are fragrant free areas.

I was once told, "the smell was all in my head" Low and behold, their right

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#18
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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/11/2016 12:05 AM

"the smell was all in my head" Are you sure about that? I see you have a problem with your nose.

Try this one

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#23
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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/11/2016 10:04 AM

"The crap they sell women and call it perfume has to be some of the most offensive smells on the market. Some would more fitting to be used as a bear attack deterrent than a man attractant."

Part of it might be the AMOUNT being used. For example, if you can follow a man's path through a busy office an hour after he as walked through, solely on the lingering odor of his after shave, then tell that man it's time to CUT DOWN ON THE AQUA VELVA!

"Avon is at the top of my list, it's worst than a burning cigarette or an old ash tray! And, I still smoke!"

Those two sentences do not make a strong statement for your case. Smokers tend to be almost completely 'nose-blind' to the odors of smoking. Allow me to provide a non-smoker's point of view: The smell of 'old ashtray' is everywhere on a smoker, it's in their hair, in their clothes, on their skin, in their breath. Even lust living with someone who smokes in the house can contaminate the non-smoker's hair and clothes, and that takes MONTHS to wash out, months of hot showers in a smoke-free building. Smokers reek of 'old ashtray' so much it's hard to believe they find it distasteful.

"They are the reason hospitals, medical offices are fragrant free areas."

Considering the range of products in 'natural' perfumes, and the variety of chemicals in 'synthetic' scents. A key reason is that strong perfumes can trigger allergic reactions, or trigger epileptic fits. Another reason is that almost all perfumes and after-shaves use an alcohol-based carrier, and that becomes very dangerous in an area that might have an elevated oxygen level.

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#24
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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/11/2016 10:15 AM

Part of it might be the AMOUNT being used.

Agreed.... make-up application is the same way.

I dated a girl way back in the 80's, and the perfume she had was always pleasant. I do not recall what it was when I asked her. But a few months back, I caught a scent of it, sure brought back a lot of fond memories.

Which was on a documentary I watch where scent can trigger memories.

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#25
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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/11/2016 11:20 AM

As my mother has gotten older, and her sense of smell has gotten less sensitive, she's prone to using way too much eau de cologne -- enough that it rubs off on my dogs and the dogs smell like Aromatics Elixir for a day or so. They don't seem to mind though.

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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/11/2016 11:33 AM

Some smell like Ben Gay.

as far as .... They don't seem to mind though.

I know of people that got skunked..... and after a while, they don't even notice the smell.

I knew a girl in college, that her dad's hobby was getting skunk scent that he bottled and sold to area sportsmen's stores, and she would help him at night.... She embarrassingly told me this, when I made a comment to her that I faintly smelled skunk. That she helped her dad the night before to collect skunk scent (from road kill), and it didn't go well.

I was so surprised by her, I never pictured her to be the outdoorsey type, and was actually impressed. I asked if she owned a boat too.

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#27
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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/11/2016 12:06 PM

Tho I still smoke I haven't lost my sense of smell, I used the old ash tray example because they do stink, even to me.

I agree, some men do use excessive amounts of aftershave and colognes and they can and do trigger reactions in people, I suffer sever headaches round perfumes and colognes.

As far the alcohol base carriers, you would have to apply the alcohol in an O2 rich environment, less than 25ft from the source. And if the O2 concentration is any higher- they have more worries to be concerned about, at that point any product containing petroleum or the flick of a light switch could/ would be explosive.

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#28
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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/11/2016 12:41 PM

"Tho I still smoke I haven't lost my sense of smell, I used the old ash tray example because they do stink, even to me."

It can be a matter of degree; you may find the old ashtray malodorous to sit next to, while I find it unpleasant to be across the room from it.

I also have had good evidence from a former smoker about the differences.

My parents used to both smoke, and after they divorced, my father quit. After my brother and I moved into our own place, Dad commented that we both smelled a lot better, that the lingering odor of cigarettes weren't following us around anymore. We had never noticed the odor clinging to ourselves, because it was so faint compared to the lingering odor throughout the house.

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#30
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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/11/2016 1:30 PM

Not that it matters on this topic, but I am the process of quit smoking, not just because of the smell, but all the other reason too.

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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/11/2016 3:07 PM

Quitting is the hardest thing I've ever done and one of the best. I quit 24 years, one month and 7 days ago, not that I'm counting. I still dream about smoking, and sometimes I'll think "Oh, why don't I go have a smoke." The good news is that, I haven't been tempted to start up again. Hang in there; I'm sure there are other CR4 folks who, like me, are rooting for you.

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#32
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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/11/2016 3:43 PM

I'm not sure how much my support is worth, compared to BestInShow, since I'm a 'never smoked,' but I'm rooting for you as well.

From what I've heard from my father, you'll be surprised at how good everything will taste once your tongue recovers from the tobacco. (Might be one reason that 'ex-smokers' tend to gain weight.)

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#36
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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/12/2016 1:56 PM

I wonder if sex at old age can be deterred too just like smoking. The flesh is weak but the mind is still young, I heard from someone said that.

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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/12/2016 3:17 PM

"I wonder if sex at old age can be deterred too just like smoking. The flesh is weak but the mind is still young, I heard from someone said that."

I hear that's what those, ahem, special pumps and rings are really designed for, instead of the, er, 'body-building' uses they're advertised for in the back of gentlemens' magazines. Or so I've heard.

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#29
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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/11/2016 12:48 PM

it interesting about cigarette smoke, and its something that I notice.

It not so much now, because a lot of towns banned smoking in public spaces, but when I was in my 20's, and go out to the taverns, smokers would leave their burning cigarettes butts in the ashtray. And if you watch the smoke (if the ventilator filters weren't up to par) the smoke from these cigarettes would float to the nonsmokers but rarely if at all to the smokers.

When it happens to me, I always snuffed them out. Which at times got things pretty interesting with the smokers and me.

I always wonder if it had something to do with ionic attraction of the smoke to the nonsmokers (because they didn't smoke) may have with this.

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#19

Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/11/2016 12:59 AM

I have recently been watching a programme on TV, Quantum physics in nature. There was a chapter on smell, and they touched on the fact that smell is a product of quantum physics, that affects the resonances of the odorant molecule.

They also mentioned a test, that was done where they replaced hydrogen with deuterium in a scent molecule, of a plant frequented by fruit fly's, and found that it changed the scent of the plant. It was then found that the fly's would avoid the plant who's scent molecule had deuterium instead of hydrogen atoms.

Just one extra point, I recently read an article, that stated, that people that have no sense of smell where psychotic?

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#20
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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/11/2016 7:15 AM

I may have seen that, or something simular... there was one that actually says that the ability of smell (scent) is pretty complicated.

A little off topic,....have to be careful, there are some members that are against learning basics on documentary's. I myself think its not only relaxing but informative also. Its just hard to reference a documentary show.

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#21
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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/11/2016 8:52 AM

I have lost most of my sense of smell, but the voices tell me I am not psychotic.

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Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/11/2016 7:38 PM

Yes my sense of smell has also almost gone too. When I first migrated to Australia I developed mild asthma, being exposed to new plant smells. The condition slowly cleared over a period of time, as it did so, so did my sense of smell. From the above information, smell seems to affect one's mental processes? Body functions? Therefore is the loss of smell part of the body immune system?

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Guru
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#22
In reply to #19

Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/11/2016 9:23 AM

Rixter suggested a book, The Emperor of Scent, about Luca Turin, an advocate of the quantum-physics explanation of the sense of smell. My copy should arrive tomorrow. I put a link to Turin's Ted Talk somewhere in my blog post; it's short (15 minutes) and fascinating.

As to whether people with anosmia are psychotic, check out the Monell Chemical Senses Center's anosmia research. People without a sense of smell might not necessarily be psychotic but they certainly miss a lot of the good stuff in life.

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Guru
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#33

Re: Scents and Scentsibility

04/11/2016 3:57 PM

Thank you for the support, I guess you never really know your support until you put the problem out there.

Thanks again, Dan

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