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Does Odor Alter Mood?

Some psychologists believe that odors can alter mood. One social psychologist patented a device for emitting odors that he claimed were psychologically beneficial, and there is a small industry based on the idea of aroma therapy. Small vials of pleasant odor-causing substances are sold to people who want to increase their alertness or improve their moods.

What is "aroma therapy"?

An expert on olfaction-Susan Kasko, PhD, an environmental psychologist with Monell Chemical Senses Center-is skeptical of claims about beneficial effects of aromas.

What did an expert on olfaction say about the effects of odors on performance?

Kasko said she is aware of 11 published studies involving the connection between odor and performance, and five of those showed no influence at all. The other six were evenly divided between positive and negative effects. Her own studies have never shown any connection between odor and performance...."There is no direct evidence that odors trigger more emotional responses than other sensory systems."

So what accounts for the positive effects reported by proponents of Aroma Therapy? Kasko suspects a placebo effect.

What happened when people were exposed to water but told it contained a pleasant fragrance?

She cited one study in which participants were exposed to water vapor but were told that it contained a pleasant fragrance. Many of the participants reported an elevated mood when exposed to the vapor. (Edwards, 1995)

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