Nav: Home

As light as a lemon: How the right smell can help with a negative body image

September 05, 2019

The scent of a lemon could help people feel better about their body image, new findings from University of Sussex research has revealed.

In a new study from the university's Sussex Computer-Human Interaction (SCHI) Lab, people feel thinner and lighter when they experienced the scent of a lemon.

The research, carried out in collaboration with researchers at the University College of London Interaction Centre (UCLIC) and the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), also revealed people contrastingly felt thicker and heavier when they smelt vanilla.

The researchers believe the new findings, unveiled today at the 17th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (INTERACT 2019), could be used to develop new recommendations for therapies for people with body perception disorders or wearable technologies that could improve self-esteem.

Giada Brianza, a first year PhD student at the SCHI Lab and lead researcher on this work, said: said: "Our brain holds several mental models of one's own body appearance which are necessary for successful interactions with the environment. "

"These body perceptions are continuously updated in response to sensory inputs received from outside and inside the body.

"Our study shows how the sense of smell can influence the image we have in our mind of our body and on the feelings and emotions towards it.

"Being able to positively influence this perception through technology could lead to novel and more effective therapies for people with body perception disorders or the development of interactive clothes and wearable technology that could use scent to enhance people's self-confidence and recalibrate distorted feelings of body weight."

The research project builds upon recent research in cognitive neuroscience and human-computer interaction (HCI), which revealed technology can change people's body image perception (BIP) by stimulating a range of senses.

Often such research is focused on visual or tactile stimuli and increasingly sound, but this is the first study that looked at how smell can affect BIP.

Dr Ana Tajadura-Jiménez, from UC3M, said: "Our previous research has shown how sound can be used to alter body perception. For instance, in a series of studies, we showed how changing the pitch of the footstep sounds people produce when walking can make them feel lighter and happier and also change they way their walk. However, nobody before has looked at whether smells could have a similar effect on body perception."

The experiment consists of two consecutive studies. In the first study, participants sat at a computer screen while olfactory stimuli were delivered and were then asked to rate the perceived scent using a Visual Analogue Scale comparing it to spiky or rounded shapes, hot or cold, high or low pitch and thin and thick body silhouettes.

In the follow-up study, participants stood on a wooden board, wearing headphones, a pair of motion-capture sensors and the shoe-based device which enhanced the pitch of their own footsteps.

Participants were instructed to walk on the spot while olfactory stimuli were released and then asked to adjust the size of a 3-D avatar using a body visualisation tool according to their perception of themselves. They also answered a questionnaire about perceived speed, body feelings and emotions.

Researchers found the scent of lemon resulted in participants' feeling lighter, while the vanilla scent made them feel heavier. These sensations were enhanced when combined with high-pitched sounds and low-pitched sounds of the participants' footsteps.

Marianna Obrist, Professor of Multisensory Experiences and head of the SCHI Lab at the University of Sussex, said: "Previous research has shown that lemon is associated with thin silhouettes, spiky shapes and high-pitched sounds while vanilla is associated with thick silhouettes, rounded shapes and low-pitched sounds. This could help account for the different body image perceptions when exposed to a range of nasal stimuli.

"One of the interesting findings from the research is that sound appears to have a stronger effect on unconscious behaviour whilst scent has a stronger effect on conscious behaviour. Further studies need to be carried out in order to better understand the potential around sensory and multisensory stimuli on BIP."

Prof Nadia Berthouze, Deputy Director of University College London's Interaction Centre (UCLIC), added: "Initial applications of such approaches have shown interesting initial effects in the context of chronic pain opening the way to new and possible more effective ways to address dysmorphia."
-end-


University of Sussex

Related Perception Articles:

Changing how we think about warm perception
Perceiving warmth requires input from a surprising source: cool receptors.
Rhythmic perception in humans has strong evolutionary roots
So suggests a study that compares the behaviour of rodents and humans with respect to the detection rhythm, published in Journal of Comparative Psychology by Alexandre Celma-Miralles and Juan Manuel Toro, researchers at the Center for Brain and Cognition.
Approaching the perception of touch in the brain
More than ten percent of the cerebral cortex are involved in processing information about our sense of touch -- a larger area than previously thought.
Musical perception: nature or nurture?
This is the subject of the research by Juan Manuel Toro (ICREA) and Carlota Pagès Portabella, researchers at the Center for Brain and Cognition, published in the journal Psychophysiology as part of a H2020 project being carried out with Fundació Bial to understand the neuronal bases of musical cognition.
Perception of musical pitch varies across cultures
Unlike US residents, people in a remote area of the Bolivian rain forest usually do not perceive the similarities between two versions of the same note played at different registers, an octave apart.
Olfactory and auditory stimuli change the perception of our body
A pioneering investigation developed by the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) alongside the University of Sussex and University College London, shows that olfactory stimuli combined with auditory stimuli can change our perception of our body.
How brain rhythms organize our visual perception
Imagine that you are watching a crowded hang-gliding competition, keeping track of a red and orange glider's skillful movements.
Traumas change perception in the long term
People with maltreatment experiences in their childhood have a changed perception of social stimuli later as adults.
BrainHealth researchers study the neurochemistry of social perception
Cues signaling trust and dominance are crucial for social life.
How expectation influences perception
MIT neuroscientists have identified distinctive patterns of neural activity that encode prior beliefs and help the brain make sense of uncertain signals coming from the outside world.
More Perception News and Perception Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.