Did you know that smell is considered to be the oldest sense? Researchers know that our sense of smell has its origins in the rudimentary senses that even bacteria have to detect chemicals in water and air. This means that creatures evolved to respond to chemicals around through before developing touch, hearing, or sight.

Even though smell is an ancient sense that has a profound effect on our experiences, it can be difficult to describe or even discuss. We tend to assume we rely more on our hearing and sight in order to make sense of the world around us.

Why is smell important, and how does it interact with taste, memory and emotion?

Let’s take a look at everything you should know about why smell matters and how smell works.

Why Is Smell Important?

Your sense of smell has a long list of functions. These include detecting hazards, the role it plays in taste, and pheromones. It is easy to take for granted our sense of smell, however, it has been an essential part of our survival and evolution throughout human history.

Smell can alert us to dangers. When we smell bad or unpleasant smells, pain signals are sent to the brain so that we can be alerted of the potential for danger.

Most animals rely on their sense of smell in order to find a mate, track food and water, and even sometimes communicate. Humans don’t have as good a sense of smell as some other animals, but our ability to detect odors is still pretty impressive. An outdated study from 1927 found that we can detect 10,000 different smells, but a more recent study found that we can actually detect at least one trillion distinct scents.

Smell is the only one of the senses that impacts the part of the brain that deals with emotions and memory. Businesses take note of the way that smell affects people’s perception of a product or experience and utilize this information as a part of their marketing and branding.

How Does Smell Work?

The sense of smell occurs when an odor transmits a signal through the olfactory system by binding with a receptor within the nasal cavity. The signals in these receptors are then aggregated by glomeruli and transmitted to the olfactory bulb. Here, they start to interact with regions of the brain that deal with identifying smells, emotion, and memory (the hippocampus and the amygdala.)

How Are Smells Made?

When a substance releases particles into the air, a smell is created. In order for us to detect the odor, though, these particles must enter our nose.

The more easily a substance gives off molecules, the stronger you will find a smell to be. Objects that are non-volatile have very little smell if any at all.

Diffusion is the process through which smells travel through the air. This is when air particles, mixed in with the odor particles, move freely in the air and spread out in the environment around them.

Does Smell Affect Taste?

Our sense of taste can be affected by our sense of smell. Amazingly, scientists believe that 80% of the flavors we experience when eating derive from the odors we smell. This is precisely why food can become bland and flavorless when you have a cold or your nose is otherwise stuffed up.

There are four qualities that our taste buds can detect. These are sour, sweet, salty, and bitter. The other tastes we assume result from our taste buds are actually distinguished through our sense of smell.

Smell and Memory

Have you ever noticed how certain smells will remind you of old memories of distinct locations or events? If you have, you’re not alone.

A number of studies have found that there is a connection between smell and memory. One study from 2004 at Brown University found that there was more brain activity in participants when they smelled a perfume they associated with a positive memory over a control perfume.

Another study from 2013 found that brain activity was higher with olfactory stimuli than visual stimuli. There have also been clinical case studies documenting how smells can also be lined to strong negative emotions, which can be a major contributing factor in PTSD.

Smell and Emotion

Attached to the memories that smells can remind you of are often emotions. Odors can impact our physiological and psychological states, which makes some researchers think that psychological problems might be able to be treated through odors, for example, reducing the effects of stress.

Good Smells: Should You Brand Yourself With a Scent?

Why is smell important?

Smell contributes to our experience of the environment and impacts our mood, emotions, and memory. The difference between a good day at the office and a bad day might be a matter of whether it subtly smells like lavender or rotten eggs. How much we enjoy the food that we eat can have a lot to do with the odor and the way that impacts taste, and smell can even alert us to danger.

Scent is an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to branding and communication. It allows you to reach the hearts of your clients without even saying a word. With scent, you can help your customers remember positive memories, evoke certain dreams, and associate your product or service with positive concepts.

If you are looking to create a memorable scent signature, you can learn more here!