The Amazing Power of Smell
(Excerpted from Chapter 1 of The Aroma Freedom Technique)
Scent generated by plants can serve many purposes. In some cases, the scents act as signals. Flowers send out a sweet smell that draws insects to them, which helps ensure their survival because the insects then go on to spread the pollen to other flowers. Plants can also send out alarm scents to draw beneficial insects that come and remove the harmful insects.
It is this power of scent to act as a “signal” that we can use for the purpose of enhancing our emotional life. If scent acts as a signal, and this automatically triggers responses in our brains, can we use this power intentionally to create emotional changes? Absolutely.
In one well publicized experiment, Susan Schiffman, a Psychologist at Duke University, sprayed the scent of pleasant odors such as chocolate chip cookies into New York City subway cars. The riders were found to become about 50% less likely to push, shove, and become aggressive.
Dr. Herz of Brown University has demonstrated how odors can become linked with previously unrelated emotions. In one experiment, children were exposed to an unfamiliar odor while performing a frustrating task with no solution. Later, these same children performed more poorly on a different task when they were exposed to the same odor. Their frustration had become paired with the odor, and this affected their performance and motivation. They “gave up” more easily because of the odor-induced negative mood. The ability of the odor by itself to trigger frustration has been called odor-emotional conditioning, and it has profound implications.
The good news is that positive odor-emotional conditioning occurs just as frequently. We can surround ourselves with the scents that we associate with love, joy, competence, and fun. These scents can create a “garden of delight” that is supportive, strengthening, and healing. Students can condition themselves to scents and then use these scents to boost confidence and performance during test taking.
Smell can signal to the brain that it is safe to relax. Researchers in Iran discovered that smelling rose oil significantly reduced amygdala firing in rats, suggesting that the essential oil protected the rats from over-excitation. Remember that the Amygdala is the structure most closely associated with the fight, flight or freeze survival mechanism. Reducing the amygdala’s responsiveness would have a relaxing and stress relieving effect.
Smell is also famously able to trigger memory. We have all had the experience of smelling something that brought us back to memories from childhood. If these were happy memories, such as coming home from school and smelling cookies or fresh baked bread, we become filled with pleasant feelings. We have also experienced smelling something that reminded us of a particular person – such as a cologne or cigar smell. When we smell this we have no choice but to remember – it is instant and automatic.
It is this feature of instant and irresistible triggering of memories and their associated feelings that makes the Aroma Freedom Technique process so effective.