Faces Are More Attractive When Ambient Odors Are Pleasant: Study
May 30, 2014

Faces Are More Attractive When Ambient Odors Are Pleasant: Study

Alan McStravick for www.redorbit.com - Your Universe online

Unilever, the multinational corporation behind such personal care products as Axe body spray, Dove soap and Surf laundry detergents, has funded a research study conducted by the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, PA. In the study, it was determined that a subject was deemed more or less attractive dependent upon the quality of the ambient odor.

The study actually tested two hypotheses in relation to the relative pleasantness of odor. The first was to determine a subjects attractiveness. The second was to examine how age was perceived as a result of a pleasant or pungent fragrance. The prevailing thought, which to a certain extent was proved, is that judgment of attraction is an emotional process while making a judgment as to a person's age is reliant upon visual cues and is, therefore, a more cognitive, rationally-based process.

"Odor pleasantness and facial attractiveness integrate into one joint emotional evaluation," said lead author Janina Seubert, PhD, a cognitive neuroscientist who was a postdoctoral fellow at Monell at the time the research was conducted. "This may indicate a common site of neural processing in the brain."

Throughout human history, we have sought to make ourselves more attractive through the use of perfumes and fragrances. A trend among the DIY crowd is to create their own perfumes with the combination of rose and lavender in water. In south Asia, the use of jasmine blooms strung together into a bracelet passes off a pleasing aroma. In fact, the jasmine flower is the official bloom of Pakistan where it is culturally significant. It is estimated that the market for perfumes and other fragrances in the US alone exceeds $2.8 billion.

In the conduct of the study, published recently in the open access journal PLOS One, the research team recruited 18 young adults. 12 of the participants were female. The scientists presented each participant a series of eight female faces that varied in terms of natural aging features.

As each photograph was evaluated, one of five odors was released. The five odors were combinations of fish oil and rose oil, varying in degrees where the higher concentration of fish oil would be considered the unpleasant aroma and, by contrast, the higher concentration of rose oil would be considered pleasant.

With photograph in hand and aroma discharged, the participants were asked to rate the age of the female in the photograph, the overall attractiveness of the face and whether or not they deemed the ambient aroma pleasant or not.

What the team discovered was that the pleasantness of the odor was directly correlated to positive ratings of facial attractiveness. This, they claim, suggests the olfactory and visual cues work independently of one another to influence judgment where facial attractiveness is concerned.

As mentioned above, the metrics used for rating age of the subjects in the photograph relied more upon strict visual cues like wrinkles and blemishes. This is not to say that the team didn't discover an interesting connection between aroma and age perception.

When participants were presented with a pleasing scent, the gap between young and old seemed to expand, making the older photo subjects seem much older and the younger subjects appear much younger. Conversely, when an unpleasant aroma was presented and all subjects' facial attractiveness were diminished, the age perception gap between young and old seemed to shrink dramatically.

“These findings have fascinating implications in terms of how pleasant smells may help enhance natural appearance within social settings,” stated lead scientist at Unilever, Jean-Marc Dessirier. While females were the subject of this study, don't think you are off the hook for scent-based objectification guys.

“The next step will be to see if the finding extend to evaluation of male facial attractiveness,” Dessirier concluded.