The sweet smell of success

Wearing perfume can make you feel and look more confident. No, this isn’t an advert, it’s the implication of a study by a team of Japanese researchers who filmed thirty-one young women while they underwent a mock interview.

Halfway through the 10 to 15 minute interview, a break was taken and half the women were sprayed once on the wrist with the perfume “Breath Garden-Tenderness Time”. Afterwards, 18 students were asked to compare video clips of the interviews taken before and after the mid-way break. Crucially, the student raters were unaware that half the women had been sprayed with perfume during the break. Also, all the interviewees were given the same grey sweatshirt to wear, and personality tests revealed no differences between those women who were, and were not, given perfume.

The student raters were asked to study the interviewees’ body language, eye contact and so on, as closely as possible. Their ratings revealed that after the interview break, the women who were sprayed with perfume, but not the other women, reduced the amount of nervous movements they made, for example they shifted their seat position less often and touched their hair and face less. The female student raters also judged the women given perfume, but not the other women, to be more confident after the interview break than before it. Furthermore, after the interview break, the women sprayed with perfume reported feeling more relaxed and more dominant.

While acknowledging there was a possibility the interviewees had guessed the purpose of the study, the researchers explained that: “The olfactory areas (i.e. smell related) in the brain make anatomically unique and direct connections with the neural substrates responsible for emotional information processing…[therefore] people who interact with those who wear perfume may experience relatively intense affective responses that result in a positive impression on the perfume-wearer”.

“Such positive reactions to perfume may also be experienced by the perfume-wearer”, they said “If this is so, perfume may cause behavioural changes that result in the wearer’s projecting a positive ‘visual’ impression”.

Higuchi, T., Shoji, K., Taguchi, S. & Hatayama, T. (2005). Improvement of nonverbal behaviour in Japanese female perfume-wearers. International Journal of Psychology, 40, 90-99.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.