Victoria de Andrés, PhD in Animal Biology from the University of Malaga, stresses that “the amygdala is the brain center most related to emotion, while the hippocampus is related to memory. That means that the way we have to process that information is notor is it only reasoned but also emotional and, furthermore, we associate that olfactory stimulus with something that has happened to us, because it is also found in the hippocampus, where we can associate it with memories”.
“Sometimes a smell reminds you of something in an automatic way and then when you think about it, you start to extract those memories, for example, childhood sensations, in such a way that if you have a series of positive memories in the environment where there was a a certain smell, that smell automatically and without you being very aware of it reminds you of that well-being you had”, adds the biologist.
For de Andrés, “when you go to a romantic date you get ready, you wear the clothes you like the most and also your perfume because, from the outset, a good smell attracts and, furthermore, what interests us most is that it be a automatic attraction, that is, that the person does not think much, but simply that we are attractive. It is a way of attracting that is not rational, but immediate, emotional and more evocative”.
“El Perfume” is the famous work of the German writer Patrick Süskind, which narrates the life and vicissitudes of a man who, with the birth defect of give off no smell and the misfortune of being born in misery, manages to reach positions in society as seasoned perfumer. And so much is his obsession with bottling the most exquisite and sensual aromas that he does not hesitate to murder young virgins to obtain their most intimate bodily fluids.
This is the fictional narration of the attraction that can cause that enchanting aroma that so many human beings use to seduce or feel more personal, although there are also effluvia capable of being repulsive. But what is the secret by which we react to a smell?
Dr. Victoria de Andrés, professor of Animal Biology at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Malaga (southern Spain), explains to EFE the reasons why the odors we inhale have the response in our brain to seem attractive to us, nauseating or tasteless; why some manage to make us irresistible or so personal and unique.
THE ORGANIC FUNCTIONING OF SMELL
“The transmission of the smell of perfume works in the same way as all smells, that is, there are certain very volatile substances that evaporate at room temperature, become a gas, and when we breathe in they enter through the nasal cavity and from there they go to its dorsal part where the olfactory epithelium is located. Andres points out.
They are the neurons that are in the nasal epithelium, directly in contact with the bottom of the nasal cavity.which allow us to detect the substances we inhale when breathing. “It can be said, in a very graphic way, in the case of smells -says the doctor- that it is not the sensation that goes to the brain, but it is the brain that goes out to look for the sensation”.
The nasal cavity captures that stimulus that is directed to the nucleus of the olfactory brain where there are two very different pathways, on the one hand, it sends it to the prefrontal cortex, that is, to a place where that information is processed in a rational way, whereby at that moment the olfactory sensation is a perception that can be analyzed , observe, process if that smell is fruity, citric, with a touch of wood, etc.
“But there is a second pathway that is put into operation simultaneously, which is extraordinarily fast and which goes to another area of the brain, the limbic system, in charge of regulating emotions and with very important brain areas such as the amygdala (or pituitary gland) and the hippocampus”.
SMELLS THAT PROVOKE MEMORIES
Victoria de Andrés stresses that “The amygdala is the brain center most related to emotion, while the hippocampus is related to memory.
This means that the way we have to process this information is not only reasoned but also emotional and, furthermore, we associate this olfactory stimulus with something that has happened to us, because the hippocampus allows us to associate it with memories”.
Thus, we can associate smells with a sensation and transform them into neural messages evocative of affections, memories and feelings.
“It is what causes, sometimes, a smell to remind you of something that, automatically and quickly, evokes, for example, childhood sensations. Thus, if you have a series of positive memories of an environment where there was a certain smell, that smell, perceived years later and in an environment that may be radically different, in a little conscious way, reminds you of that well-being and produces the same sensation in you ”, adds the biologist.
“Then -continues de Andrés-, when you think about it rationally, you can analyze those memories and try to outline their details in a conscious way, but you have already had the sensation immediately beforehand”.
For de Andrés, “there is a way to react to ‘blank slate’ odors and it is as a switch, that is, either it attracts you or it disgusts you. A smell of putrefaction, even if you smell it for the first time and do not associate it with anything you have smelled before, causes you immediate rejection, without any elaborate reasoning. On the other hand, for example, the smell of flowers immediately causes you an attraction”.
PERFUMES FOR LOVE.
There are many animals that secrete volatile substances, called pheromones, at pre-mating moments to induce copulation. These chemical substances, which they would secrete as part of courtship, have a very particular odor, which attracts members of the other sex of that species, but curiously not those of other similar species.
“Those pheromones, perfectly described in many animals, have been tried to isolate in the human species without success. There is a lot of myth about pheromones and, although some commercial houses have marketed vials of both male and female human pheromones, they have turned out to be a great scam”, clarifies the doctor.
For de Andrés, “what there are are smells that are instinctively attractive to us. When you go to a romantic date you get ready, you wear the clothes you like the most and also your perfume because, from the outset, a good smell attracts and, in addition, what interests us most is that it be an automatic process, that is to say, that the person does not think much about why we are attractive to him, but rather, we simply attract him. It is attraction that is not rational, but immediate, emotional and very evocative”.
perfume industry know these strategies and use them to obtain benefits, “But not only in our civilization but in all of them. When archaeological excavations are carried out, ceramics, construction remains and also perfume bottles always appear, because, although humanity did not know until very recently what are the cerebral pathways to awaken this attraction, what has always been known is what its practical effect”, emphasizes the biologist.
Certain combinations of scents are more attractive than others and also adapt to the personalities of each one: it is about putting on perfume and becoming someone irresistible. The only thing that changes is the personality profile of the one who decides to attract that, although it can range from the most posh to the most badass, the format of seduction of the other sex is always the same”.
WHAT MAKES A UNIQUE PERFUME
Perfumes interact with other chemicals, such as those found on the surface of our skin. In this way, those chemical products that make up the perfume react with those that we have, due to the chemical composition of our sweating, or due to small fluctuations in our pH (acidity or alkalinity of the body).
“There are slight personal variations that mean that the reaction of the perfume to contact with our skin is not the same all over the world.. Therefore, even if the smell of such a brand is the same and you smell of a certain brand of perfume, the end result is going to have slightly personalized connotations.”
Victoria de Andrés concludes that “the way you react with the perfume makes you, in certain aspects, quite unique. On the other hand, you identify with certain odors and reject others in a fairly automated way, although, of course, there is also a learned cultural component, which makes certain cultures find certain odors attractive while others may be rejected.