Did you know?
When describing a beautiful bouquet of flowers or a delicious plate of food, the pleasure derived comes from both the smell and the visual appeal of what is put in front of you. Our senses are triggered by chemical signals. What is interesting about our sense of smell in particular, is that it not only responds to context, but can also trigger emotions, memories and feelings.
From chemical signals to electrical activity
Watching a film or listening to a song on the radio will usually trigger some sort of emotional reaction, whether this is a smile or a tear to the eye. Our ability to interpret visual or auditory signals generated by films and songs is thanks to a sensory process in the brain called transduction. Light signals entering your eyes or sound waves entering your ears get converted into electrical signals which are then interpreted by the brain, enabling us to respond appropriately. These electrical signals, combined with changes in chemical neurotransmitters present within the brain, make up the essence of how your brain thinks, feels and behaves at every moment of the day and night.
Our sense of smell is also managed through transduction. Interestingly, the olfactory region of the brain where fragrances and smells are processed, is connected to many other brain regions, for example those involved in emotion (e.g. the amygdala), memory (e.g. the hippocampus) and multisensory regions (e.g. the orbitofrontal cortex). These allow the odour message to be interpreted and to evoke a response in the form of thoughts (e.g. I like it/it reminds me of…), feelings (I feel relaxed) and actions (I turn my head).
Our sensory world is dynamic and influential. When you smell a fragrance you don’t just smell the fragrance, that fragrance is in a product, that product has particular packaging, and that whole product concept is being experienced within a particular environment (e.g. at home, in a shop). All that together produces a fully sensory experience which is taken in through your sensory systems to create a holistic sensory experience.
Importantly there are interactions between our sensory systems, which mean that they can influence each other – for example the particular smell of a fragrance can influence how soft a piece of fabric feels to touch on the skin, or the visual images presented alongside an odour can influence how that odour is perceived. By optimising the context in which a fragrance is experienced we can amplify the sensory, emotional and behavioural experience of that fragrance.