At the 2019 MIT Space2 workshop, TechRepublic Senior Writer Teena Maddox spoke with Stevens Institute of Technology’s Adriana Madzharov about how warm and cool scents affect people. For instance, cool scents such as peppermint or eucalyptus in confined environments give the illusion that the area is more spacious. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
Teena Maddox: Tell me a little bit about what you discussed in your session, here at the MIT workshop.
Adriana Madzharov: So, we talked about the influence of ambient scents, or scents that we might experience in the environment around us, and some of our work shows that we have these scents that are based on temperature, so we form associations with temperature, so when you smell a warm scent you think of warmth, or a cool scent you think of coldness or coolness. These warm and cool scents, a warm scent such as cinnamon or vanilla, and cool scent such as peppermint or eucalyptus, they have this really nice quality about them, where they can produce a warming or cooling sensation in the body, and because of that, over time, we’ve come to associate them with temperature.
So, temperature is fundamental for us as human beings, because it’s essential for our survival, but we also hold very strong associations in our abstract thinking, so for example, we associate warmth with closeness to another human being, or with the presence of a lot of people. In our research, we showed that when people are in a warm scented environment they also think there are more people present and that the space is smaller, and the opposite happens when they are placed in a cool scented environment. They think there is more space available, that there are less people present. So essentially, warm and cool scents produce this spatial bias on our perception.
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Teena Maddox: How does this apply in confined environments such as space versus here on Earth?
Adriana Madzharov: Well, we think that given our results about the biases on spatial perception, we think that these scents can be strategically used depending on needs or goals. For example, if you have been in a confined environment for a long, where you kind of need to open up the space and feel a little more freedom, a cool scent that does this for us might do a good job, but at the same time if you feel like you need more human comfort, or a sense of intimacy, sense of warmth, a warm scent can produce this effect on you, and we think that these effects apply on many different contexts, because space is really essential for us. It’s a very important factor, and it determines a lot of our behavior as well, depending on how much space we feel have around us, or how many people are present around us. It can apply in the workplace, for example, places where there is a lot of open space you might want to apply a warm scent to feel a little more intimacy, or even privacy for that matter, because we show that a warm scent has this effect on perception.
Teena Maddox: Can it affect mood as far as if someone is angry, or kind of change people’s behavior?
Adriana Madzharov: Well, we haven’t really found any such effects in terms of warm and cool scents, but in general the literature shows that when you have a pleasant scent it does affect your mood in a good way, so it puts you in a pleasant mood, at least for some time, so pleasant scents generally work in a positive way. We don’t know of any negative effects of pleasant scents, but of course there is still so much room for research in that area.