Friday, August 31, 2012
The Psychology of Fragrance
When I began to create custom fragrances in my store, I learned early on that people have an emotional reaction to fragrance that has nothing to do with the presence of essential oils in their bloodstream. There are three sources of odor for perfumery: essential oils, aroma chemicals, which have no counterpart in nature, and perfume oils, which are laboratory made. The latter are the main ingredient in most fragrances today because of the vast variety of scents and the low cost. If a fragrance is listed as 'perfume oil,' or 'fragrance oil,' that means it is synthetic.
Humans have an acute scent memory. They can remember odors from years ago that affected them emotionally. An odor that made them sick, the perfume worn by a favorite relative or someone they disliked intensely will get the same reaction from them today as it did years ago. They remember odors that indicate danger, like something burning in the house or spoiled meat. They are calmed by pleasurable food odors like chocolate, vanilla, or warm bread, and these scents have become marketing tools for restaurants and bakeries. There is a reason why the perfume counters are at the front of a department store. The pleasant odor relaxes patrons and makes them willing to stay and shop.
Once I experimented with fragrance in a theater, very successfully. Our local theater group was performing Belle of Amhurst, a one-woman play about the life of Emily Dickinson. Upon entering the theater, the audience sees a living room set. Emily enters apologizing for being late because she was taking gingerbread out of the oven. For three days I simmered spices behind stage so that the audience would enter the theater smelling gingerbread.
Can people be manipulated psychologically by fragrance? Absolutely. I did a room fragrance for a divorce lawyer that he used in his conference room to calm distraught clients. It was lavender, mandarin orange and a bit of cinnamon.
One of my male clients was a union organizer, dealing entirely with men. I recommended he wear Old Spice, or AquaVelva, because they were blue collar fragrances accepted as manly by his probable clients, and therefore, he would smell acceptable. On the other hand, I advised my female career clients who spent time in boardrooms with difficult men to wear sandalwood. I warned them that under no circumstances did they want to smell like someones wife.
Haarmann and Reimer, an international fragrance house, once commissioned a study to discover which male personality type was attracted to what fragrance. They discovered six distinct personality types with very different preferences. They intended this as a guide to creating fragrance for their manufacturing clients, but imagine if men and women, hunting for a sexual partner, could decide who they wanted to attract and wear the proper scent to get the job done. Perhaps include a whiff of testosterone or copulin. We're not aware of these hormones, but our body still responds to their presence. I describe this phenomenon in my book, Accidental Alien. Interesting.