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Smell Effect

Sense of smell

“If the digital age has increased the volume of communication, it may not have improved the quality,” notes CNN:

Reversing that trend is the goal of a new generation of sensory engineers who are going beyond sight and sound to produce devices that use our untapped faculties. Perhaps the most exciting breakthroughs right now are arriving in the form of smell-centered communication.

“Our motto is ‘aroma tells a thousand pictures'”, says Dr. David Edwards, biomedical engineer at Harvard and founder of Le Laboratoire, known for producing radical sensory devices such as calorie-free chocolate spray. Every human has thousands of distinct smell sensors, Edwards explains, a resource he taps with his newest invention the oPhone.…

The oPhone user can mix and match aromas and then send their composition as a message, which will be recreated on a fellow user’s device. Up to 356 combinations will be possible in the first wave, rising to several thousand in the next year, and the dream is an exhaustive base – the ‘universal chip’.…

“The most basic smell still has hundreds of molecules and you need analytical chemistry to see what’s there”, says Dr. Joel Mainland of the Monell Chemical Senses Center. “Perhaps only 5% would have an impact on smell, so it’s difficult to pick them out. It’s more trial and error than quantitative science.” 1

“Our senses play a vital and complex role in forming our thoughts, impressions and behaviors,” writes the website. “Sensory branding is based on the idea that humans are most receptive, and most likely to form, retain, revisit and reinterpret memory, when all five senses are engaged. By hitting more than one sense, brands can establish a stronger and longer-lasting emotional connection with consumers.” 2

The Experience Music Project in Seattle, Washington, once included an attraction with warning signs stating that simulated drug odors would be present. The push to include olfactory senses in one’s overall experience has been gaining momentum in everything from new carsi to supermarkets to gaming consoles. Researchers at ScentAir, for example, “uses ‘scent marketing’ to boost sales in grocery stores by dispersing the smells of your favorite products in hopes of consumers opening their wallets to purchase them, writes the website. “In the U.S., consumers spend an estimated $500 billion a year on food. With smell accounting for 75 percent of what we taste, [‘Early Show’ Contributor Taryn Winter Brill] remarked there’s no denying a psychological effect.” 3

Backyard Brains - Neuroscience for Everyone!
Neuroscience for Everyone!

“‘Smell is the most underrated sense, but next to vision is the most information-rich one we have,’ says [Professor Bob Stone], speaking to Soldier Magazine,” in Roby Crossley’s article for the website announcing the creation of a ‘smell effect’ peripheral.4 continues with Melvin Oatis, clinical supervisor of the New York University Child Study Center, saying, “The sense of smell is so primal, it goes into an odor part of the brain before it can all register and it’s an unconscious wonderful thing that happens to you.5

And increasing hunger is not the only effect. “Gamers who received peppermint scent showed significant improvements in their video game play, such as an increase in the number of levels completed for Perfect 10, greater number of hits and stars during Snowball Fight, and the number of levels and distance completed for the Obstacle Course,” notes Dr. Bryan Raudenbush of Wheeling Jesuit University. “They also said that the video games seem less mentally demanding, that they felt they didn’t have to put forth as much effort in order to do well, and showed less anxiety.” 6

Scent Sciences Smell-O-Vision, image source:

“A team of engineers at Birmingham University are working on a device that exposes gamers to context-sensitive scents during their gaming sessions,” reports the gaming website.7

“Numerous pots of paraffin wax that are laced with a variety of aromas… are said to capture the smell of a wide range of locations and situations, from the cordite residue of gunfire to the burnt rubber rising from a racetrack,” explains Rob Crossley. “These pots of wax are placed into a boxed fan, which is fitted to a PC and throws a scent under the player’s nose when triggered by an in-game event.” 8


i Automobile styles have tended to replicate certain dominant modes of transportation over time – the Model T looked like a train, the heavily finned ’57 Chevy like an imagined rocket ship of the time.
– Donald Katz, Just Do It: The Nike Spirit in the Corporate World (Holbrook, MA: Adams Media Corporation, 1994), p. 129.


1 Kieron Monks, “Forget text messaging, the ‘oPhone’ lets you send smells,” CNN, 17 March 2014, at (retrieved: 22 March 2014).

2 Scent Marketing,, at (retrieved: 24 October 2011).

3 “Scent Marketing,”, 25 July 2011, at (retrieved: 24 October 2011).

4 Rob Crossley, “Science team creating ‘smell effect’ peripheral,”, 27 April 2009, at (retrieved: 24 October 2011).

5 “Scent Marketing,”

6 Bryan Raudenbush, “Effects of Peppermint Scent Administration on Cognitive Video Game Performance via the Nintendo Wii,” Sense of Smell Institute, Fragrance Foundation, at (retrieved: 24 October 2011).

7 Griffin McElroy, “Science team creating ‘smell effect’ device for games,, 28 April 2009, at (retrieved: 24 October 2011).

8 Crossley, “Smell Effect.”

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“Embarrassing Bodies – Smell effect on pain threshold,” video at, (retrieved: October 2011). (Watch it here)

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