Focus on Perception: Non-Attentive Smelling and Perfumery Practices

Odor scientists have claimed that when humans smell things, it usually happens without their giving any conscious attention to the odor (see sidebar — Scientists on Awareness of Odors). Recent research has confirmed this assumption; it has, moreover, thrown light on the conditions under which smelling tends to become attentive.

T. Lorig, a leading American investigator of the electrical changes occurring in surface layers of the human brain upon exposure to odors by measuring the so-called “chemosensory event-related potential” (CSERP), surmised that “odor is a part of multi-dimensional stimuli such as food but is only recognized when […] a discrepancy is present or until an active search for an odor is initiated.” B.M. Pause, K. Krauel and others have substantiated this in more recent CSERP research. These authors showed that discrepancies from expected odors were detected even under non-attentive conditions, but, when detected, set the stage for the allocation of attention. Other stimulus features contributing to attention triggering, depending upon their magnitude, were the odor’s intensity and the degree to which it was liked or disliked. The authors found, moreover, that brain responses to odors were enhanced by attention to the odors, which in turn depends on the odors’ relevance to the specific task at hand.

In light of these criteria, it is reasonable to assume that in the daily use of personal, household and laundry products, consumers’ attention to their odor is not triggered.

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