Ahh… to smell a rose, and its sweet, heady, floral aroma. So how does it work: just how do we smell things?
By: Kathy Sadowski, MS in Aromatherapy, Registered Aromatherapist, LMT
Aroma is defined as an odor or scent (Lis-Balchin, 2006). Olfaction is the sense of smell, originating in the nasal cavity of animals and occurring when odorants bind to olfactory receptors and then send the information via the olfactory nerve to the limbic system of the brain for processing (Lis-Balchin, 2006). Humans are able to distinguish as many as 10,000 different smells (Lis-Balchin, 2006)! In animals, this plays a role in sexual attraction, finding food, sensing danger, and nonverbal communication. Olfactory communication happens in babies with their bond to their mother, in a link between husband and wife, and sensed as a smell of danger or fear in an individual (Rhind, 2012). In addition, smells are cataloged in our memory and an odor can evoke a specific memory with a specific psychological effect.
Pheromones are like a “smellprint” or unique identifier for an individual. They are linked to the vomeronasal organ and create a subliminal attraction or opinion about another person (Buckle, 2003). Psychoaromatherapy is the use of environmental fragrances to mimic pheromones associated with subliminal smell (Buckle, 2003).
Smells affect different people in different ways. Varying degrees of sensitivity to certain smells can be related to heredity or overexposure (Rhind, 2012). In addition, we have a hedonic perception of a unique smell based on our personal and cultural experiences drawn from our specialized odor memory (Rhind, 2012).
The SSI (Sense of Smell Institute) defines aromachology as “the study of the psychological effects of fragrances, especially their hedonistic qualities and behavioral and emotional qualities” (Lis-Balchin, 2006. P. 59). Thus, research has been done to support the following:
- Smell affects mental attitude and motivation.
- Smell can reduce depression and enhance dreams.
- Smell can affect sexuality.
- Baser, K. (2010). Handbook of essential oils: Science, technology, and applications. Boca Raton: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis.
- Buckle, J. (2003). Clinical aromatherapy: Essential oils in practice (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone.
- Lis-Balchin, M. (2006). Aromatherapy science: a guide for healthcare professionals. Pharmaceutical press.
- Rhind, J. (2012). Essential oils: A handbook for aromatherapy practice. London and Philadelphia: Singing Dragon.