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IFRA U.K. Fragrance Forum and the Psychology of Fragrance

Posted: October 31, 2013

IFRA United Kingdom held its third annual fragrance forum on Oct. 17 at The Royal Society in London featuring the theme "The Psychology of Fragrance." 

The purpose of the IFRA UK Fragrance Forum is to develop a better understanding of the important role fragrance plays in life, each year bringing together around 100 perfumers, scientists from academia and industry, marketers, trade body representatives and others for whom fragrance is important.

A panel of three academics, one industry scientist and two marketers covered a range of olfactory and fragrance topics from which two key messages emerged. Several of the speakers explored the impact of cross-modal sensory research which enables recent research to be used in ensuring that fragrance has an impact of the other five senses and vice versa. The second main strand was the fact that key to use of such research was the need to realize that as we each have very specific scent memories and perceptions, there is value in recognizing that consumers' reactions to scent will differ widely.

IFRA UK director, Lisa Hipgrave, chaired the first of the three sessions of the symposium which explored "Fragrance - the invisible difference." The first speaker was Craig Roberts from Stirling University who spoke on "Body odor in biological perspective." 

"Odor is critical in co-coordinating a variety of behaviors in animals but we tend to think that information in human odor doesn't really affect human behavior," Roberts said, adding: "Nothing could be further from the truth. "Human body odor contains information which enables us to recognize other individuals and may be used in choosing our sexual partners. Recognizing body odor in this biological perspective has direct implications for the use of fragrances."

He spoke about the way in which humans pick partners with different MHC genes asking: "If odor carries such strong preference messages, why wear perfumes?" He explained that previous research had identified the two reasons for humans adorning themselves with scent: "The introduction of clothing and of cooking," he said, "has meant that our odor became unpleasant and so we started wearing perfumes. "We found that when someone's body odor is combined with their preferred fragrance, the resulting blend is more pleasant to other people than the same odor combined with an arbitrarily chosen fragrance. This suggests that choice of a fragrance is influenced not only by the properties of the fragrance itself, but also by how it will interact with that person's underlying odor." 

The earliest known evidence of this was found in the second millennium BC. We are, it seems, good at selecting perfumes for ourselves but not for our partners. "We choose fragrances that match our body odor," Roberts said. Research shows that our natural smell interacts with the perfume we wear and that these mingled scents affect potential sexual partners.

"One implication is that fragrances might not simply mask body odor, but rather complement it, or even enhance the information contained within it. Another is that this interaction could be important in understanding how consumers choose perfumes."

Marketer, Deb Brunt, Head of Consumer Insight from PZ Cussons, explored the need for 'Understanding consumers: stepping into their shoes'. She demonstrated the factors that are driving consumer choices/behavior and how every aspect of a product can communicate with the consumer.

IFRA UK is already planning the next annual Fragrance Forum, which will be staged in London on October 16, 2014. The Annual General Meeting of IFRA UK took place earlier in the day when the appointments of Jonathan Gray as Chairman and Stephanie Topps as vice chairman were ratified.