Crossing Sensory Boundaries at SCC Annual Meeting


In terms of sensory perception in product development, "everyone is looking for superadditivity but if you think about the senses separately, you suppress [the experience]," said Charles Spence, Ph.D., the opening Frontiers of Science award lecturer at the SCC Annual Meeting and Technology showcase. Cosmetics & Toiletries sponsored his lecture.

Spence, a world-renowned experimental psychologist from Oxford University, described his sensory research and how the industry might leverage similar concepts. Fragrance, for example, can give the impression to the observer that the wearer is slightly younger than their actual age. Also, as is well-known, fragrance helps consumers in their hair care purchase decisions; this was reported by 72% of respondents surveyed. 

Scent, Sound and Feel

Sound and feel also play roles in product perception. As Spence described in both his keynote and a recent podcast, the sound of a product's package as it is opened and closed and its weight in the user's hand influence its perceived quality. 

Associations also are made between odors and certain musical sounds. For example, apricot, raspberry and vanilla are often connected with the sounds of piano and woodwind instruments; blackberry, primarily with the piano; and musk, mainly with brass instruments. These associations could inspire cosmetic packaging or scents for specific product impressions.

Related: The Shape of Smell: Exploring the Smell-X Installation

Finally, scents also correspond with shapes. Stimulating lemon, smoky and pepper scents evoke pointed, angular shapes whereas apricot, blackberry, vanilla and raspberry impress more rounded, curvy shapes. Interestingly, these correlations also are almost universal perceptions, regardless of ethnicity or region. Spence suggested these connections might also play a role in package design.

During the Q&A session, Karl Linter, Ph.D., of KAL'idées posed the question of whether these multisensory findings might improve OTC topical compliance. Spence responded that although it was not necessarily part of his research, it could potentially work.

In addition, a student queried whether Spence had worked on noncommercial scents; e.g., body secretions such as pheromones, and wondered how these might embellish product development. Spence speculated these chemical signals could trigger sensory perceptions although again, this was not his primary area of study.

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