Home psychology Fragrances and their effect: how they influence us!

Fragrances and their effect: how they influence us!

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 393 views

They awaken memories, steer emotions and influence our mood: scents have a major impact on body and psyche. Read here why this is the case and how the brain sometimes lures us down the wrong track.

Fragrances: how they influence the body and psyche

As in animals, the nose also plays a special role in humans. Smells and scents are omnipresent and subconsciously influence our feelings, thoughts and decisions. They are therefore a decisive factor in various areas of life.

smells and emotions

Smelling isn’t just about identifying specific things – our memories record smells and associate them with people, things and places. Smells and scents also evoke instincts, emotions and protective reflexes.

The experiences we make are learned by the brain – and can even be trained. Psychologists speak of so-called conditioning.

This is particularly unpleasant with negative memories: the smell of your favorite food can trigger nausea for years if it was cooked to sweeten the upcoming chemotherapy, for example oncologists know

The memory of an upset stomach from caramel candies sometimes stays with you for a lifetime – even if only a few onions release their sugar when roasted.

flavors in food

Because smell and taste are different manifestations of the same sensory experience, whet the appetite and trigger hunger, scents are often used specifically in combination with food – in some cases also to manipulate the human brain.

The aroma of burgers, for example, comes from spray cans and aerators, as does the smell of freshly baked goods – they are intended to make customers even more interested in the goods when they go shopping.

Although other aromas are synthetically manufactured, they smell identical to the naturally occurring substance. The fruity note of a strawberry yoghurt, for example, often comes from wood waste – and is made up of only six to ten instead of 350 different components. In this case, the “natural strawberry flavor” noted on the package just means that it was made from natural ingredients and not artificially synthesized.

The human nose can be deceived and real aromas can be forgotten – this has certain consequences. Food developers have found that some children now prefer industrially produced strawberry yoghurt to real strawberries in natural yoghurt.

scents in advertising

“Scent sells” – money can be made with smells, say advertising experts. The idea behind it: to offer the customer a special shopping experience through certain smells that encourages them to buy and come back. It’s not just grocery stores that take advantage of this, clothing stores use this trick too.

Many public spaces such as airport halls, opera houses, museums, but also cruise ships, banks and hotels use the effect of pleasant scents to their advantage. This should not only ensure that customers feel comfortable, in some cases unpleasant vapors should be covered – for example from plastic or carpets. Allergy experts are concerned because the molecules of the original odor do not disappear, but are only superimposed.

Fragrances and Reproduction

Odors play a special role when it comes to reproduction. So-called pheromones are probably decisive for the choice of partner. These are sex attractants that decide whether we find someone attractive or whether we literally cannot smell our counterpart. In animals, they trigger a willingness to mate.

Researchers have not yet found them in humans. But various experiments indicate that they exist: For example, women reacted to the scent of liquids containing testosterone with changes in their hormone production.

When women live together in a flat-sharing community, it is not uncommon for their menstruation to be synchronized. Biologists attribute this to their pheromones in armpit sweat.

Research was also carried out into whether sperm follow a lily-of-the-valley-like odor to the egg cell. This has been questioned by recent studies. According to the Max Planck Society, this effect only appears to occur with a thousand-fold overdose of the male sex hormone progesterone.

scents and their effects

There are almost as many scents as there are fragrant, aromatic plants. Each essential oil has its own properties and effects on humans. We introduce you to the most important ones.


Anise helps relieve cold symptoms and creates a relaxing atmosphere.

You can read more about anise here .


Bergamot lifts the mood in depressive moods. The refreshing scent has a calming and relaxing effect, but at the same time lifts the mood.


The citrus fruit has an invigorating and uplifting effect. It promotes the ability to concentrate and has proven itself in the cold season with its disinfecting properties.

You can learn more about the properties of lemon here .


Eucalyptus also helps against sluggishness and listlessness, increases concentration and is a good remedy for rheumatic complaints. Inhaling clears the airways.

You can read more about eucalyptus here .


Lavender calms heart palpitations, nervousness and excitement. The scent helps with sleep problems and has a balancing effect on stress .

You can learn more about lavender here .


Neroli gives off a gentle, floral scent that creates a calming and relaxed atmosphere. This helps with inner restlessness, nervousness and anxiety.


The invigorating peppermint clears your head when you are mentally exhausted or overworked. But it is also used successfully against muscle aches and headaches .

You can learn more about peppermint here .


The scent of the rose is used primarily for grief and mourning. It also helps to regenerate irritated skin.


Rosemary promotes blood circulation, prevents sore muscles in athletes and has a stimulating effect on mental exhaustion.

You can learn more about rosemary here .


Sandalwood has a special harmonizing and calming effect. The scent creates a meditative, calming atmosphere.


Tea tree is suitable for cleaning the air in the room. However, the oil is known as a care product for skin problems and blemishes. However, only use the oil diluted, otherwise the skin will be sensitive to it.

You can find out more about tea trees here .


Vanilla has a calming and soothing effect on the body. This creates a feeling of security. The reason: breast milk has a slight vanilla taste.


Cinnamon creates a warm and cozy atmosphere, which is why it is mainly used in the cold season.

You can learn more about cinnamon here .

stone pine

Stone pine helps to draw new energy. The fragrance is mainly used in the bedroom to start the day more rested and relaxed.

Fragrances: the health effects

According to estimates by the American Society of Dermatologists, around 5,000 different fragrances are used in products, a sometimes explosive mixture and an overload of the senses. As with passive smoking, the negative effects this can have on the brain are already being discussed. Possible side effects could be breathing problems, mucous membrane problems, migraine attacks, skin problems, asthma attacks, neurological problems and allergies.

Aromatherapy: effects of essential oils on the body

From the pure emotional impression to the influencing of various bodily functions – aromas have a beneficial effect on body and soul, as shown by medical research.

By massaging it into the skin or inhaling certain scents in the form of essential oils, their effect is increased so that they have a direct influence on certain organs. Aromatherapy helps to alleviate physical and psychological symptoms and to treat certain diseases – for example rheumatic complaints.

You can find out exactly how aromatherapy works in this text: Aromatherapy: How it works!

Important: Aromatherapy can complement other treatments, but should not be used as a standalone therapy. Therefore, if you have any symptoms, always contact your doctor first.

This is how we absorb smells!

Smells are as fleeting as life, but they don’t disappear, they penetrate our brain as invisible little sensory tracks through the nose. There they store memories that last for decades and become part of our experience.

This process is so complex and multifaceted that it still poses many mysteries for researchers. Because the way in which special receptor cells in the nasal mucosa convert the chemical message of the molecules into electrical signals and then encode them into codes is extremely sophisticated.

More than 400 different olfactory receptors are located in the mucous membrane, mostly individually distributed over 30 million olfactory cells, and each scent creates a typical pattern of perception on them, like a kind of Braille.

Humans can distinguish thousands of billions of different olfactory patterns in this way. Their messages are then sent as tiny electrical thunderstorms to the most diverse regions of the brain – ending up in the departments for recognition and warning, where they can trigger gagging stimuli, for example. Others activate visual memory and the emotional center, with detours to the centers of learning and motivation.

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