New research from the Monell Chemical Senses Center, funded by Unilever, reveals that women’s faces are rated as more attractive in the presence of pleasant smell, suggesting perfume can change the way we perceive one another.
Perfumes and scented products have been used for centuries as a way to enhance overall personal appearance, and with previous studies showing that attractiveness could be influenced by smell, this is the first study looking at whether odors influence the actual visual perception of facial features or alternatively, how faces are emotionally evaluated by the brain.
“Odor pleasantness and facial attractiveness integrate into one joint emotional evaluation,” says lead author Janina Seubert, PhD, a cognitive neuroscientist who was a postdoctoral fellow at Monell at the time the research was conducted. “This may indicate a common site of neural processing in the brain.”
Jean-Marc Dessirier, Lead Scientist at Unilever and a co-author on the study adds, “These findings have fascinating implications in terms of how pleasant smells may help enhance natural appearance within social settings.”
“The next step will be to see if the findings extend to evaluation of male facial attractiveness.”
The study, published in open access journal PLOS ONE, featured 18 young adults, two thirds of whom were female, who were asked to rate the attractiveness and age of eight female faces, presented as photographs.
While evaluating the images, one of five odors was simultaneously released: which were different blends of fish oil and rose oils, to represent bad vs good smells.
The subjects were asked to rate the age of the face in the photograph, the attractiveness of the face and the pleasantness of the odor.
Across the range of smells, odor pleasantness directly influenced ratings of facial attractiveness, suggesting that olfactory and visual cues independently influence judgments of facial attractiveness.
With regard to the cognitive task of age evaluation, this was less influential, as visual age cues were linked to older age perception, with the odor pleasantness not affecting this so much.