Unlike the other senses, our sense of smell is always on duty. Each day, without any thought, we breathe in over 23,040 times and inhale over 238 cubic feet of air. Each breath floods our olfactory receptors with information about the environment we live in, such as the smells of awareness, danger and sexual attraction. We are capable of recognizing approximately 10,000 different odors, with each odor having the power to influence our moods and behavior. However, most people would be hard pressed to identify more than a couple of dozen. Such is the mystery of this enigmatic sense.
Smell has a powerful effect on behavior. Certain smells can brighten our moods and lift our spirits, like the smell of a good cup of coffee and warm cinnamon buns straight from the oven.
An exotic perfume or the smell of your lover’s skin can lead to romance and intimacy while others make us feel at home. Some smells we find repulsive and warn us of danger. Just think of your reaction to the stink of a dead skunk on the side of the road or the smell of burning toast. Such strong smells usually trigger an instant reaction and alert us to take corrective action.
Aromas delivered directly to the smell receptors in our brain have a powerful effect on our behavior. Since birth, our smell receptors have been busy cataloguing every smell that passed through our nostrils. That is why new-born infants snuggle up against their mother’s breast because the smell of her skin gives them a deep sense of comfort and safety. That first smell, lodged deep within our memory, still has the power to trigger intense feelings.
The environment of our childhood, with its varied smells, fragrances and odors, built the platform of scent memories which determines how we respond to the hints of those scents today. The smell of a musty basement, Thanksgiving dinner at grandma’s or the gym locker room after a basketball game are all powerful triggers that transport us back into a world of memories.
The brain processes information delivered through our other senses by cognitive identification first, which in turn triggers an emotional response. But our sense of smell is unique. It does the opposite. Our smell receptors are directly connected to the limbic system which controls emotional behavior and memory. Incoming odors first trigger an emotional response which is then followed by cognitive recognition. That’s why you’ll respond to the relaxing effects of lavender first long before you identify the specific aroma.
Aromas have long been used to influence behavior. Legend has it that Cleopatra perfumed the sails of her ship sent to meet Anthony so the wind would carry a hint of her desire. For centuries, doctors would diagnose various diseases by smell alone and we all know that our shopping experience is influenced by the smells funneled through the air conditioning systems. Smells are being introduced everywhere – in our household products, our homes, our cars and office environments.
If smells are such powerful influencers of moods and behavior doesn’t it make sense that changing the smell can also change the behavior? Research is pointing to that probability. So while the sense of smell is the least known of our senses, it has recently emerged as a new medical frontier. As research distinguishes how odors are identified and transmitted, we will be able to use a variety of scents to obtain the maximum benefits we desire.
It is the scents-ible approach to creating health and well being.
Breaths comes in pairs except for two times in our lives – the beginning and the end.