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Fragrance research: The Multi-sensory Approach to Fragrance Creation

By: Anne Churchill
Posted: August 31, 2007, from the August 2007 issue of P&F magazine.

Primal and instinctive, they are more powerful in shaping perception of the world than any smart technology. For the perfumer, understanding the complex relationship between the senses brings a new facet to the craft as fragrance moves from art to science. Each sense brings a wealth of information about an experience—be it product, place or person.

The Senses 

Sight: Sight is the primary human sense; far more of the brain’s sensory capacity is devoted to ocular stimuli than to any of the other four senses. Due to this, the other senses can be deceived by sight. For example, the perception of the flavor of a food or drink can be altered by what it looks like. In a 1980 study, Du Bose et al. demonstrated that while most people perceived a cherry-flavored drink to taste of cherry when it was colored cherry red, many thought it tasted of lime when it was colored green, and nearly 20% thought it tasted of orange when colored orange. The pleasure derived from consuming food and drink can also be enhanced if it looks right, i.e. if it fits into a preconceived construction of how we think it should look. For example, people prefer the smell of fresh fruit more strongly if the product is an appropriate color.

Hearing: This sense also proves vital, as it is one of the most important senses for social contact and interaction. In today’s hectic society, people are busy processing audio signals from multiple sources, often simultaneously. Along with vision, hearing is the primary sense for gauging distance and provides an excellent early warning system, alerting the body to what it can’t see. However, hearing can also be deceived by sight. An excellent example of this occurs at the cinema. The sounds of people speaking in the film are perceived as coming from the lips of the people on the screen, but in fact the sound comes from the speakers in the theater.

Touch: As one of the first of the senses to develop, touch provides our most fundamental means of contact with the world. Touch enables people to share their feelings with others; in fact, a child’s first lesson in loving comes from the cuddling he/she receives.