Scent responses are learned, according to Marcia L. Pelchat, PhD, an associate member and sensory psychologist at Monell Chemical Senses Center…She believes an individual’s reaction to a specific aroma is reflective of their upbringing and environment. Just as the scent of vanilla can trigger feelings of comfort, specific scents can turn individuals off.
The brain’s response to scent occurs in the limbic system. “The limbic system, the part of the brain that controls emotion, is also called the smell brain,” added Pelchat. “So smell goes straight up into the limbic system and is processed there.”
Whereas scent responses are learned, taste responses are not. “Unlike the sense of smell, where you may learn to like or dislike an aroma, babies are born to like or dislike a taste,” said Pelchat.
Since scent reaction is learned, the affinity for an aroma can differ by geographical region. “In the United States, there is a common social experience with vanilla and people find it relaxing. Cinnamon is also greatly liked by Americans but in France, people generally do not eat cinnamon or wintergreen. They would view it as medicinal and terrible,” added Pelchat. The effects of aromas therefore depend on cultural experience.
What scents do you love? Which scents do you despise? Let us know!