Scent psychology shows same female male responses with nuanced perceptions based on culture, cognitive associations

The power of fragrance has long been understood by the beauty and personal care industry – able to trigger emotional responses and inspire feelings in consumers almost instantly.

But when it came to the psychology of scent, there were some interesting aspects to carefully consider when investing in product development plans, according to Professor Charles Spence, director of the University of London’s Intermodal Research Laboratory. Oxford at the Department of Experimental Psychology in the UK.

“The specific associations that people have”

Speaking to attendees at this year’s IFSCC Congress in London, UK, last month, Spence said it was essential for the beauty industry to understand how multi-sensory the world is, where sight , hearing, touch, smell and taste were all collectively important for perceptions and experiences.

And, speaking to CosmeticsDesign-Europe after his presentation, the professor said this knowledge was even more important when developing products and looking to target different consumer demographics, as perception and experiences could be nuanced. .

“No matter who you are or where your consumers are based in the world, they will connect all the senses more or less equally,” Spence explained.

“…Where things may differ is in terms of the specific associations people have. And we worked on that a bit, trying to capture slight nuances in maybe the colors that, say, the French versus the English think of when they smell mint or lavender or cucumber. And there are differences, but they are slight.

Despite the lightness, however, he said these nuances were important and were very much related to the “cognitive associations”​ held by people who feel an odor or a color.

With scents, Spence said nuance might be more important, especially with “gourmet scents,” those related to what we eat. “There, the vanilla, cinnamon, or nutmeg responses, you can see these interesting cultural differences. I’ve seen this more clearly in the food and drink world, but it will probably extend to some of the flavors or flavor ingredients in [beauty as well].”

Importantly, the more cognitive associations there were behind a particular scent, the more potential there was for cultural variation in meaning, he said.

A look back at history – the power of perfumes and color bias

But these differences in perception weren’t just based on culture, Spence said; historical trends also have a lot to do with it. In the 1980s and 1990s, for example, there was a great attraction for very intense perfumes, where “big suits and big perfumes”​ went hand in hand, but this trend would have evolved differently across the world, he said.

The color bias also necessitated a return to history, he said. “The color and the sexes – pink and the association of women and boys in blue – where does that come from? It wasn’t there 70 years ago. There are paintings from 1800-1900 of boys in pink dresses (…) There is a feeling that, at least in fashion, the associations we have with male and female sensory cues are a recent creation.

“Therefore, it might be interesting to go back and think: in the 1800s or 1900s, was there a clear differentiation between perfume or not? Perhaps we have “gendered” perfumes in recent years”, he said.

So, was there a difference to consider between male and female scents? With the rise of gender fluidity and unisex fragrances, perhaps the industry and consumers thought not.

“I reviewed the chemical senses literature on smell and taste and found no valid evidence for differences in sensitivity,”he said.

Spence said that while there was likely research on masculine versus feminine scents and asking participants to identify a scent as “masculine” or “feminine,” any answer was likely to be biased, perhaps. be influenced by the product name or packaging.

“It’s not just the perfume, it’s everything that surrounds it”

Again, the professor emphasized the importance of scent being part of a larger multi-sensory experience for consumers that included visuals, touch and sound.

“It’s not just the perfume, it’s everything that surrounds it”,he said.

On that note, he said there was a lot to be said for consumer trials and product testing that included packaging, color and texture mockups, and flavor blends.

“After various researches that we have conducted over the past few years, it is increasingly clear that products, whatever they are, always come in a package. And too often I see, in a variety of sectors or industries, that products and packaging meet first on the shelf. And it seems kind of crazy not to gauge consumer response to your product in the actual packaging it’s going to appear in, because it makes such a big difference.

Donovan B. Sanford