A sense of smell is a primal thing; a useful and potentially lifesaving tool that was used by our Neanderthal ancestors to sniff out food and danger. Despite this, however, modern humans’ sense of smell is actually better than that of the Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens thanks to an increase in the size of our olfactory bulbs (located at the front of the brain, this handy little piece of ourselves is what is responsible for sending messages to our brains about the smells we pick up).
But if our sense of smell is better now than it has ever been, are we actually using it to its full potential? Studies show that we are most likely not.
by Lisamarie Lamb
Since we no longer require our sense of smell to keep us alive (although being able to sniff out off milk is pretty useful), what is it actually good for? Psychologists suggest that humans could, if we learn to use our bodies correctly, use scents and fragrances to keep us happy. As it turns out, smells can change our mood in an instant, so it is worth our while to keep the good ones around us as much as possible.
Have you ever suddenly felt on edge or agitated for seemingly no reason? Or perhaps you’ve gone from feeling down to feeling happy in an instant (or vice versa). Maybe you’ve experienced a strange sense of déjà vu, or even had a memory of your childhood surface out of nowhere. If this has happened – and the likelihood is that it has – it could well be because your olfactory bulb has picked up a scent from somewhere and that scent is having a major effect on your brain.
Memory and the sense of smell are inextricably linked, giving humans the perfect blend of nostalgia and good feelings whenever they want or need it – assuming they are smelling the right scent. Get it wrong, and your mood could plummet. You might even become irrationally angry if your brain latches on to a smell that brings back bad memories.
A freshly baked cake could put you in mind of a kindly grandmother, and your mood will be lifted. Cut grass could send you straight back to being a young child and playing out in the sunshine – instant joy. But a hint of a perfume that, despite being pleasant enough, fills you with dread could ruin the whole day thanks to its lingering bad smell. You might never know why, or even link your bad mood to that particular scent, but it can easily happen. Maybe someone who you disliked as a child – a mean teacher, or a bully’s mother, for example – wore that perfume and, even though you had forgotten all about it, the smell has brought it all back.
It’s not just mood that is affected by fragrances either – how we perceive people changes depending on the smells around us as well. That could be down to the perfume or aftershave they are wearing, or the surroundings we’re in when we first meet them. Spotting someone across a florist’s shop floor could have a vastly different outcome to spotting that same someone in an exhaust-filled traffic jam (assuming you enjoy one smell and dislike the other, of course!).
If the studies are correct, and sniffing specific odours can help us beat the blues (or relax us, or keep us mentally awake, and so on), then which scents are best? Here are just a few examples:
- Lemon is great for keeping you alert
- Lavender is perfect for when you need to relax
- Rosemary is good for the memory (use it when studying for an exam)
- Vanilla is ideal for reducing stress
- Sandalwood reduces headaches
- Cinnamon boosts brain power
- Citrus gives you more energy
- Pumpkin is an aphrodisiac for men
- Peppermint is excellent for aiding concentration
- Olive oil stops hunger pangs
- Apple helps to manage cravings
- And, of course, our own personnel preferences and memory-linked scents will make us feel happy
And since Valentine’s Day is coming up, why not make the most of your incredible sense of smell, and wear something that will heighten the romantic mood?
For women, a perfume containing ylang ylang (such as Amarige by Givenchy or 5th Avenue by Elizabeth Arden); jasmine (including Chanel No. 5 and Jasmine Noire from Bvlgari); or rose (try Rose Passion from Agent Provocateur or Christine Aguilera’s Inspire), will work wonders.
For men, an aftershave or body spray containing vanilla can really make for a romantic air (vanilla can be found in Hugo Boss bottled aftershave balm), as can sage (Paco Rabanne Pour Homme), or lavender (as found in Calvin Klein’s Obsession for Men).
Human beings can detect at least one trillion different smells, so it’s no wonder, with all that going on around us every minute of every day (whether we’re aware of it or not), that our brains, our bodies, and our moods are affected by it.