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The sense of smell is critical for our existence. In the last 15 years scientists have made great advances to our understanding of how our nose detects odor molecules and our brain processes the resulting information that gives rise to the sensation of smell. Are we born with predispositions to the smells we do and don’t like? Do our likes and dislikes for certain smells develop and change? Do you ever wonder why everyone doesn’t share the same preferences for a scent, especially when it has such an appealing smell? Dr. Rachel S. Herz of Brown University conducted research that seeks answers to these questions and more in a white paper commissioned by the Sense of Smell Institute and entitled, “I Know What I Like: Understanding Odor Preferences.”

The innate view states that we are born with intact predispositions toward odors. Dr. Herz maintains that odor preferences are learned which is more substantially corroborated by both research and scientific theory. We learn to like and dislike various odors based on the emotional associations we have when we first encounter them. Other differences between individuals’ scent preferences exist on a cultural level … what’s considered a happy and comforting smell can vary widely among cultures. Lastly, other factors such as gender and genetic characteristics can have an impact on what scents are appealing in contrast to those that are objectionable. Ultimately, though, the differences in what our nose enjoys smelling or wants to avoid smelling seem to exist as a result of our individual experiences and the emotional meanings we attach to those experiences.

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What smells are appealing to you? Which fragrance is a comforting smell for your home? Is there an aromatic scent that energizes you? Have you considered how diffusing an aromatic scent could impact customers while visiting your business? What scents illicit a happy childhood memory? We all have some kind of story to tell that highlights how connected our sense of smell is to experience.