Scent: the Powerful Emotional Trigger

Sakura cat sniffing spring

Image courtesy of tanakawho at

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you smelled something and had an immediate reaction to it, but you didn’t know why? Sometimes just a whiff can cause us to have a strong emotional response. To find out the reason we explore the sense of smell itself.

Olfaction, a.k.a. the sense of smell, is directly connected to areas in the brain that are “strongly implicated in emotion and memory … (Other sensory information does) not pass through these brain areas. This may be why olfaction, more than any other sense, is so successful at triggering emotions and memories.”

Noting how closely smells are tied to memory and emotion, we can imagine how useful a selected scent can be at creating new emotional memories. Let’s say I choose a scent that I have limited association with (i.e., rosewood essential oil), then when I sniff it I can use my imagination to create pleasing images and memories. This connection can be used if I have a situation I am uncomfortable in. For example, I decide to get over my reluctance to be in front of a camera. My next step is to make a pleasant association when smelling the rosewood oil by imagining a pleasant scene (for instance, a relaxing beach). When that connection is made I merely smell the oil to feel relaxed. Then, when I am setting up the camera equipment, I diffuse rosewood to be very comfortable in my situation.

If I use spoken words to reinforce the agreeable situation I am trying to record then I will have even greater success at creating and accessing my new memory. Researchers found that “odor and word cued OEAMs (odor evoked autobiographical memories) activated (brain) regions typically associated with recollection of autobiographical information.” This creates a method of using scents and sounds to get one through difficult events.

Another way to use this technique is to get back to those cast-aside New Year’s Resolutions. It’s been over a month and most resolutions have failed. A common reason is because they could not be pleasantly sustained over time. But if one were carry out a resolution in conjunction with an essential oil that has a happy association, then there would be less of a struggle. Adding a peaceful sound would make things even easier.

So, revisit your resolutions – trip to the gym, anyone? – with a happy essential oil to achieve your goals and surrender to the sweet smell of success.

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