Aromachology: Neuroscience of smell

Thursday, 29 November, 2012

Aromachology: Neuroscience of smell

Scents Rouse Emotions

Aromachology, or psychology of aromas, studies the relation between psychology and scents.

It is a relatively new science, developed since 1989 by the Sense of Smell Institute (SSI), a division of ‘The Fragrance Foundation’. A range of emotions elicited by scents through stimulation of the olfactory pathways in the human brain have been researched since then.

The theories of aromachology have a solid neurobiological basis. Olfactory stimuli reach the limbic system of the brain, where memory, basic instincts (hunger, thirst, sex, survival) and the sense of smell are located. It is one of the most primitive parts of our brain and it has a strong influence in our behaviour, though always in a subconscious way.

The main benefits of aromachology are related mainly to the emotional areas of: relaxation, happiness, sensuality, happiness and self-confidence.

Aromachology should not be confused with Aromatherapy, since they are totally different fields. Their main differences are the following:



It is based on scientific research about the relationship between psychology and aromas in order to pass on a series of emotions by means of the sense of smell.  

The psychological effects are achieved through the use of scents that stimulate the olfactory neuronal pathways of the brain, triggered by the perceived smells.

The benefits of aromachology can be substantiated by means of scientific research. For example, psychological tests with 40 people exposed to different olfactory stimuli, according to the experimental design of the research.

The influence of the cognitive aspects (perception, identification, cultural associations, etc.) of the smells are included in the trials. This way the emotional benefits of the holistic sensorial experience can be evaluated: olfactory stimuli and also their cultural meanings. The later is particularly interesting since it can have a powerful influence in the emotional reactions of the subject.

Some brands of cosmetics, like Shiseido, are dedicating large efforts to the research of the beneficial properties of scents in our sense of wellbeing.



It is based on traditional knowledge. It prescribes the use of natural essencial oils and herbs in order to treat illness. It is usually used in combination with body massages.

Psychological effects are based on the absorption of the essential oils through the skin, ingestion and also inhalation.

Aromatherapy claims are substantiated by the inclusion of certain amounts (and qualities) of essential oils in the product formulas. It is assumed that such essential oils have medicinal properties.

In general only physiological aspects are considered and cognitive factors are not. Therefore, similar benefits are expected in different subjects, and the cultural factors related to aromas are not taken into account.

While aromatherapy is quite known, the overuse of ‘aromatherapy claims’, often in products with low contents in good quality essential oils, has resulted in a lack of credibility of a lot of products sold in the market.


Aromachology is, in a way, a ‘new generation’ of the Aromatherapy concept, with a therapeutical approach more emotional and cultural rather than physiological and medical.

Thus, aromachology brings a new and distinctive dimension to aromas: their emotional and psychological benefits. A whole potential to explore.


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