Thursday, December 12, 2013
Sharon Douglass loves the way different scents make her house smell. She also likes the way they make her feel.
Douglass, who lives in Bath, uses scented flameless candles, plug-ins and other good-smelling products in her living room, bathrooms and hallway.
"The house is old, and when it rains it can get a little musty, and it just kind of helps with that," Douglass said. "And you know, a lot of scents are calming, and I just kind of like that."
Douglass, a massage therapist, chooses scents based on her moods. In the end of the house where she does massages, she uses a lot of lavendar, which is known for invoking relaxation.
"People walk in and they just comment on how fresh or nice the house inside smells," she said.
Douglass is one of the growing number of Americans who use scents as a kind of accent in their home, just as you would use a throw pillow or a particular color of paint on the wall.
According to the National Candle Association, about 80 percent of all candles sold in the United States are scented. Consumers are using them both to make themselves feel better -- vanilla to relax, sandalwood to sleep better, etc. -- and to set a mood that will affect visitors in their home.
There's even a relatively new category joining fruits and florals that's especially popular this year, called "Fantasy." This category includes scents such as mango, pineapple, melon, gardenia, jasmine and coconut. The idea is that these scents will whisk you away -- in your mind, anyway -- to a tropical beach and soft ocean breezes.
Because smell is such a visceral sensation, it's the quickest way to change someone's mood or behavior, says Dr. Alan Hirsch, director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. Our sense of smell is linked to the part of our brain that processes emotion.
"It's part of the limbic system, so your emotions and smell are all intertwined," Hirsch said. "As a result, people perceive that you are as you smell. If you smell good, they perceive you're good. If you smell bad, they think you're bad.
"Similarly, your home is an extension of yourself," Hirsch continued. "If your home smells bad, it means the residents of the home are bad -- not just dirty, but morally bad -- and if the home smells good, the residents are good.
"As a result, when you go to visit somebody, the first thing you notice is a smell, and you'll get an impression of them, which is very hard to change."
The latest trend in odor research is "functional odors" -- using odors for particular effects. Businesses are grabbing onto this idea and pumping scents into stores and hotels to get their customers in the mood to spend their money.
But this concept can also apply to the home.
Here's a look at what scientists have found out about different scents and how they can affect your home environment:
• HOME OFFICE OR KIDS' STUDY ROOM: Hirsch's group found that a mixed floral smell will improve the speed of learning by up to 17 percent, compared with working or studying in a room with no odor.
• EXERCISE ROOM: The smell of buttered popcorn or strawberries, Hirsch found, makes home athletes burn more calories during the same time period.
Another study found that the scent of jasmine, known for increasing alertness, improves a wide variety of athletic performances, including reaction time. When Hirsch had players for the Chicago White Sox smell jasmine on a wristband before swinging at a pitch, it improved their batting average. In an earlier study, jasmine was also shown to have a positive effect on the performance of bowlers.
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