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A Sense of Smell Institute White Paper


Claudia Damhuis, Ph.D. Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia December, 2006

Prepared Exclusively for the Sense of Smell Institute The Research & Education Division of The Fragrance Foundation

The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it. Rudyard Kipling Anthropologists and scientists alike search for cross-cultural similarities and variation in odor preferences. This knowledge will increase our general understanding regarding which odors are liked and disliked across the globe and provide basic insights into consumer behavior on the global market. We are however still relatively uninformed about the reasons underlying these differences. Although anthropological and scientific approaches both recognize that different groups of people `view' odors in different lights, neither approach provides a complete understanding of the reasons underlying variation in human odor preferences. Scientific evidence suggests that (a) odor preferences are based on previous experience with the odor and that (b) individual olfactory experiences are idiosyncratic. That is, everyone experiences an odor differently. I have always been amazed by the fact that we as individuals experience odors and `make scents of' them in ways that are very different from one another although we are endowed with the same faculties that define us as humans. As an anthropologist, I have tried to explain these differences in terms of variations in cultural backgrounds. Obviously, `culture' is one variable that might allow for differences, but culture alone does not explain these differences. In fact, there is no single explanation for these differences because experiences in general and olfactory experiences in particular are multidimensional and individual at the same time. Reaching out to the fascinating scientific literature on odor preferences increases an understanding of some of these dimensions, which are not accounted for in anthropological research. This paper reflects on current anthropological and scientific literature as a basis for discussing possible reasons for differences in odor preferences. While viewing the issue of odor preferences through an anthropological and scientific prism, this paper will present a hypothetical model of odor preferences.


1. Introduction: Odor Preferences and Olfactory Experiences are Individual and Multidimensional Nature has placed mankind under the government of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure... they govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think: every effort we can make to throw off our subjection, will serve but to demonstrate and confirm it. John Bentham We are continuously exposed to a great number of odor stimuli, with the consequent challenge to `make scents' of them and evaluate whether or not we like them. Olfaction enables us to detect odor stimuli from the surrounding world1 and then to generate a personal scented Umwelt. 2 Evaluation of whether one likes or dislikes an odor is known as odor hedonics (from Ancient Greek: hdon, pleasure), or odor preferences. Besides being exposed to a great number of odor stimuli, we are also exposed to social stimuli that need continuous evaluation. Imagine sitting in a movie theatre and watching a movie with hundreds of other people. Have you ever wondered why other people laugh at a scene that you do not think is funny? Or have you also at times been the only one laughing? The reasons for this are generally twofold: both your socio-cultural background and your individuality influence how you experience humor and how you experience the world. Socio-cultural stimuli continuously shape how we perceive the world. This does not mean, however, that individuals who are exposed to the same sociocultural stimulus experience it in the same way: each individual experiences a situation differently than anyone else. This premise also applies to olfactory experiences and odor preferences. In general, human olfaction is based on interactions among physiological, chemical, cognitive and socio-cultural factors within the individual perceiver. Odor preferences result from these interactions. Given that individuals are biological as well as sociocultural beings, the vital question for cross-cultural investigations of odor preferences is: How does `culture' interact with individual odor preferences? A breakdown of the multiple interactions will help answer the question. This paper will reveal reasons for the

1 2

surrounding world: objective universe; state of the world before we give meaning to it (von Uexküll 1931) Umwelt: subjective universe (von Uexküll 1931)


differences in odor preference across the globe and further our understanding of how culture contributes to individual differences in odor preference. This topic will be addressed on the basis of the latest anthropological and scientific understandings about cultural influences in odor symbolism and odor preference, respectively. By revealing how culture influences individual odor preferences, the present paper provides a unique outlook on why individuals as amalgamations of physical, biological and chemical as well as socio-cultural factors experience and judge odors.

1.1 Definitions: `Common Scents' and `Culturally Scented Knowledge' Allow me to familiarize you with the terms that I will be using as they are the fruits of my own mind: `Common scents', a derivative of common sense applied to the realm of odors and olfaction, describes the norms and values of the cultural group in which one develops. Common scents are socially learned interpretations of odors, e.g. explicit or implicit (unspoken) rules that define which odors are deemed socially acceptable or unacceptable. `Culturally scented knowledge' refers to an individual's understanding of odorous surroundings that is based on learned interpretations of odors (common scents) and one's individuality, one's sense of self. The extent to which people exercise and express their own mind is in turn influenced by (a) each individual's relation to one's `roots' (common scents) and (b) the extent to which one is exposed to stimuli, social as well as sensory, during a lifetime of experiences (Cunningham et al. 2003). One's repertoire of culturally scented knowledge underlies constant growth and change.

2. Origins of Odor Preferences: Do we know why we like what we like? There are two perspectives on the origins of odor preference; the evolutionary perspective and the tabula rasa-based hypothesis, or learning paradigm. These perspectives are not mutually exclusive but there exists scientific evidence in support of the learning paradigm. These perspectives have been reviewed elsewhere (Engen 1991; Engen and Engen 1997; Herz and Engen 1996; Herz et al. 2004), so what follows is only a brief summary.


The evolutionary perspective states that individuals are endowed with a predisposition as to whether they like or dislike certain odors. It is very difficult however, to generate evidence for this perspective (Schmidt & Beauchamp 1988; Engen and Engen 1997). The physical repulsions one experiences when smelling rotten meat or vomit are likely to be due to human's evolutionary legacy: it might be an avoidance-mechanism, or an alarm signal telling us, "do not eat this." Scientific evidence for this phenomenon is very difficult to gain given restrictions laid upon scientific research with humans. In contrast, the learning paradigm, or tabula rasa hypothesis (Engen 1988, 1991; Engen et al. 1991; Herz and Engen 1996; Herz et al. 2004) is based on the concept that individuals are products of their environment. Advocates of this hypothesis maintain that the human brain is empty at birth (tabula rasa, blank slate) and is filled with information based on interactions with the environment. Hence, odorants gain meaning on the basis of individuals' experience with them. This view is limited as it does not allow for innate predispositions to odor liking or dislike. It is the very stance, however, that can easily be demonstrated with experimental evidence (see Herz and Engen 1996; Herz et al. 2004). Consequently, our current understanding of the origin of odor preferences is based on the notion that the environment determines our odor likes or dislikes because we cannot yet provide scientific evidence as to whether or not some odor preferences are based on predispositions that result from our evolutionary legacy. In this light, one's cultural background is one factor that determines odor preferences (Engen 1988). The individual is seen as an object of the environment as opposed to an adaptable subject within the environment. Under the learning paradigm, scientists view the environment as an influential if not deterministic factor for the generation of odor preferences. The fragrance market is certainly an element of this environment as it influences consumer behavior. The market is however at the same time influenced by consumer behavior as the concept of `supply and demand' shows. It is therefore vital to reach an understanding of the interactions involved between the consumer and the market. These interactions, as I argue here, can be found by looking at what happens when individuals perceive, experience and evaluate


odors. Given that the consumer is endowed with his or her own sense of self, or personality and decides over the likes and dislikes of fragrance material, it is important to include the role of the individual, e.g. by understanding how individuals indeed make `scents' of odors and the factors that motivate them to like or dislike a fragrance. This motivation is indeed influenced by individuals' interaction with `common scents' as well as one's own mind, one's own sense of self and one's own prior experiences with fragrances.

3. Culture ­ What is it? Both the idea of what `culture' represents and ways in which it can be included into investigations of odor preferences need refinement. To be sure, culture is not confined to geographic, regional or even national boundaries. In fact, culture is not a bounded entity at all. It certainly does not help that we anthropologists have not yet agreed upon a single definition of culture and possibly never will. The reason for this is that there are as many definitions of `culture' as there are individuals thinking about it. In general, culture is a dynamic repertoire of knowledge and actions that influences individuals' ways of understanding the world through learning mechanisms and experiences. Anthropologists as well as scientists, however, agree upon this: culture does have an effect on how individuals see, hear, feel, taste and smell the world. To date, most scientific cross-cultural investigations of odor preferences equate environmental with socio-cultural stimuli and employ culture as the primary focus. As such, scientists understand culture as influencing whether an individual likes or dislikes certain odors based on the individual's situation in the world: Defining factors for `culture' are ethnicity, geographic regions, or nationality (see Ayabe-Kanamura et al. 1998; Chrea et al. 2004; Chrea et al. 2005; Distel et al. 1999; Gilbert and Wysocki 1987; Schleidt et al. 1981; Schleidt et al. 1988; Wysocki et al. 1991). Mostly, scientists conduct cross-cultural studies in different parts of the world assuming that subjects show a preference for certain odors as a function of their surroundings and culture. The


deterministic perspective of the tabula rasa hypothesis is here in full bloom at the cost of an exclusion of the individual's own mind and unique experiences.

3.1 Common Scents: Socially Learned Interpretations of Odors Scientists suggest that humans judge social odors (e.g. such as human body odor, the odor of feces and the odor of bodily decomposition) generally as unpleasant (Dilks et al. 1999; Schaal et al. 1997; (Schleidt et al. 1988; Wysocki et al. 1991), while plant odors are classified as pleasant (Dupire 1986). Scientific investigations, however, remain unclear whether this is a universal phenomenon that applies to all cultures (AyabeKanamura et al. 1998; Schleidt et al. 1981). Anecdotal evidence from an anthropological perspective suggests variation in odor preferences based on socially defined odors. For instance, the Dassanetch, a cattle-herding social group of Ethiopia, consider the odor of cow manure of high value: the men smear their bodies with cattle manure to advertise their social status within the group (Almagor 1987). This interesting anecdote illustrates that different cultural groups employ different repertoires of `common scents', especially when we compare it to the role of deodorant in industrialized cultural groups. But it does not end here. Individuals growing up in a given cultural group show divergent repertoires of culturally scented knowledge, e.g. individual odor preferences. Due to the lack of research support, we can only imagine how much the individual Dassanetch cattle herder indeed likes or dislikes the odor of cattle manure. Neither psychophysical processes of olfaction, e.g. genetically transmitted variation in odor sensitivity or the individuality of odor preferences are accounted for in the example given by the anthropologist. The example of the Dassanetch, for whom the odor of feces symbolizes high social status, is only one of many to reveal positive associations with social odors. Common understandings of the odor of decomposition amongst the Nggela, who inhabit the southern area of the Island of Flores, Indonesia, provide another example: The Nggela rely on the odor of bodily decomposition to indicate the past and future existence of the dead. To be sure, not all categories of social odor are perceived as `foul' or even `disgusting'; some odors of decomposition are regarded as `sweet' and `fragrant' (field data, Damhuis 2001).


Searching for an odorant that elicits a uniformly negative response across individuals, Dilks and colleagues tested subjects from 5 different groups (4 US groups and 1 African group) in the hunt for odors that are uniformly negative (Dilks et al. 1999). All groups shared a common dislike for bathroom odor. Two other odor categories, vomit and rotting meat, also appear to be commonly rated as unpleasant, in that their inhalation is generally thought to be accompanied by physical repulsion. Except for those odorants that elicit physical repulsions in humans, I propose that universally unpleasant odors are rare; similarly, universally pleasant odors are rare. Whether socially learned understandings of bad odors of the common scents repertoire can influence individuals to the extent that they might feel physically repulsed remains to be seen. This premise might bridge the gap between the evolutionary stance and the tabula rasa hypothesis in relation to odor preferences.

Geographic Region: Germany and Japan Most reports of cross-cultural differences in odor preferences are based on quantitative data, e.g. the number of remarks given about specific odors. A study by Schleidt and colleagues reveals that the variety of odor descriptors is smaller in Japan than it is in Germany. This difference might be based on the subtleness concerning conversations about odor in Japan as compared to the more communicative German subjects (Schleidt et al. 1988: 281). Another difference between Japanese and German subjects involves the quality of odor descriptors: subjects in Japan describe more odors as flowery than do those in Germany, perhaps due to the heightened symbolic value of flowers in Japan (ibid: 285), with resultant greater exposure to the stimulus "flower". One factor of interest for the fragrance industry is the finding that subjects in Japan rate the odor of perfumes and soaps as more unpleasant than do those in Germany. Schleidt and colleagues remind us of the fact that perfumes sold in Japan are of lower fragrance intensity than those found on the European market (Schleidt et al. 1988: 286).

Geographic Regions: Germany, Japan and Mexico Familiarity is one factor that influences odor preferences (Ayabe-Kanamura 1998). For example, a study comparing responses of subjects in Japan and Germany to 18 everyday


odorants reveals that familiarity with culturally-specific odors, such as food odors, lead to heightened pleasantness ratings. (Ayabe-Kanamura et al. 1998). In Japan, subjects like the odors of soy sauce, dried fish, Japanese tea, fermented soy beans, India ink (commonly used in calligraphy taught in most Japanese schools), peanuts, beer, cheese, and pine wood more than do those in Germany, while German subjects like the odors of perfume, almond, anise, and church incense more than subjects in Japan (ibid). Distel and colleagues extend the Japanese-German study by including a group of Mexican subjects (Distel et al. 1999), using the same odorants and employing the same methods as in the preceding study. Results supported the relationship of familiarity to pleasantness. Another analysis of pleasantness ratings for eugenol and amyl acetate reveals that individuals living in Germany give higher pleasantness ratings to eugenol than do those living in Japan (see Wysocki et al. 1991: 294). These results indicate that environmental (physical and chemical), perhaps even cultural factors as well as individuality experiences indeed influence odor preferences.

Geographic Regions: USA and Japan A cross-cultural comparison of the Odor Stick Identification Test for Japanese (OSITJ) given to US and Japanese populations reveals that the odor of rose was the most-liked in both groups: 27% of the US panel and 14% of the Japanese panel selected rose as the most liked, respectively (Kobayashi et al. 2006: 340). In addition, the US test panel favors the odors of chocolate (14%), steak (8%), cinnamon, coffee and strawberry (6%) while the Japanese test panels' odor preference ratings reveal high pleasantness ratings for the odors of perfume (10%), orange and soy sauce (8%), citrus juice, lemon, rice and vanilla (6%).

The Smell Survey The world-wide Smell Survey, conducted in 1986 by Monell scientists in cooperation with the National Geographic Society, is the largest smell survey in the history of olfactory research: the self-administered survey resulted in 1,421,062 responses from around the globe. The smell test included the geographic regions of Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia, the British Isles, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe and the United States.


The largest number of responses is from the United States at total number of 1,221,992 responses while the smallest number of respondents originated in the Caribbean at 1,104 responses (Wysocki et al. 1991: 289). People were asked to submit odor preference ratings for six odorants: androstenone (personal odor), amyl acetate (banana), galaxolide, eugenol (`dentist odor', clove), mercaptans (added to natural gas to give it its characteristic odor) and rose. Across all regions, rose is rated of highest pleasantness while mercaptans (sulfur-containing organic substance) receives the lowest pleasantness ratings. Between these two odors, the order of pleasantness from highest to lowest follows: eugenol, amyl acetate, galaxolide and androstenone (personal odor) (Wysocki et al. 1991: 288), which suggests that common odor preferences might reach beyond culture and are also a matter of our evolutionary legacy. These data are, however, more homogenous than they appear. The responses are limited to certain demographics who purchase and read the National Geographic Magazine and do not include empirical data from non-literate communities: The scope of applicability to `regions' is subjected to the requirements of literacy (Damhuis 2004: 36).

3.2 I smell who I am: Odor is a Tool for Communication Odors are universally used as a means of social communication that advertise the status of the wearer. Common scents or odor symbolisms vary both within and across cultural groups, for example as expressions of identity or social status. Further, odors also function as a means of communication with ancestors, spirits and gods, e.g. the use of incense (Howes 1991) and as a means to organize time, e.g. the Japanese incense clock. Body odor is one of the pivotal means to communicate varied aspects of individual identity, including dietary preferences (LeGuérer 1994), trade and gender (Almagor 1987), sexual behavior and erotic memories (Ebberfeld 2001), status or age (Almagor 1987; Bubandt 1998; Classen 1992, 1997; Classen et al. 1994; Howes 1991; Largey and Watson 1972; LeGuérer 1994; Seeger 1981). The idea of a shared body odor is one out of many metaphysical or imagined bases on which members of a group can relate to one another. Anthropological data suggest that different cultural groups employ natural odors


or fragrances as expressions for group identity and self identity (Almagor 1987; Roseman 1990). Due to the lack of anthropological research on the role of body odor in industrialized societies, we have to turn to scientific investigations of the liking and dislike of body odors in order to find out whether body odor is conceived in the same way as in non-industrialized societies. Scientific investigations suggest that pure body odor is typically judged unpleasant in industrialized cultures. Studies show that more individuals rate the odor of androstenone, a compound of human axillary sweat (Brooksbank et al. 1974) as unpleasant when they are told to expect the smell of smell body odor (Lundström et al. 2006). Because there is no comparable data in which subjects who have not experienced exposure to mass marketing messages on the appropriateness of odor are asked to rate the pleasantness of pure body odor under the same controlled conditions, the data cannot be compared on a cross-cultural level. Integrating anthropological understandings of the role of body odor into scientific experimentations would indeed shed more light on the question as to whether industrialized socio-cultural groups share the premise of non-industrialized groups that body odor defines group membership. Scientific and anecdotal evidence suggests that commonly accepted understandings of body odor change. Just think about changes in trends in the use of deodorant during the last decades, which again differs across industrialized social groups, e.g. USA and Europe. Scientists report that 90% of the US population use deodorant daily (Laden 1999) whereas the usage in Europe is lower, particularly among men.3 It could be argued that a trade-related odor defines a member of the trade as belonging to a group, as illustrated by the example of the Dassanetch. Does this also apply to the New York business man? Does he define himself as a member of his trade based on his body odor (or choice of aftershave)? Do you expect a business man to smell a certain way?



Would you be surprised to sit opposite to someone who clearly shows olfactory evidence of his week-end fishing trip? Maybe not if this person is your next-door neighbor whom you just met in your front-yard for a chat. But how would you feel if this person is sitting opposite to you in your local bank trying to sell you shares? What motivates individuals to employ fragrances as a means of social communication? It depends on the message that they want to communicate. The psychologist Snyder defines two categories of consumer, based on factors that motivate fragrance use: The imageconscious consumer buys a perfume in order to mirror an image suggested through advertising, while the more self-conscious individual buys a perfume because they like its odor and also based on the motivation to find an odor that mirrors their essence. That is, the first type of individual tries to get their image from the flacon while the second type tries to get a flacon that captures their own self-image (Snyder 1990). These distinctions, based on surveys conducted amongst a limited age group (university students) reveal suggestions about individual expectations towards fragrance materials and to the way in which they are advertised. The categorizations are not applicable to other cultural groups for cross-cultural market research, however, as they are based on a single demographic in one culture. More research of this kind needs to be done on a cross-cultural level. The success of a perfume is based on the interaction between industry and the consumer: the range of fragrances available to the consumer is determined by industry; on the other hand, industry needs to design and market products in accordance with what the consumer likes. Body odor, either pure or applied with fragrance, communicates information about the wearer. This relates to the Dassanetch cattle herder as well as to the New York business man, both of whom aim to communicate and advertise their status. The basis on which individual's attitudes towards fragrance materials are generated on a global scale, however, needs further investigation. However, it is not solely the environment that determines an individual's hedonic evaluation of fragranced materials.


4. I smell therefore I am: Is the Nose of the Greek a legacy of Socrates' Nose? Cultural backgrounds impact on how individuals process information about the world. Going back in history, historians and cognitive scientists state that ancient systems of thought still influence contemporary cultural groups. The pivotal example is the difference between Eastern and Western systems of thought, which are characterized by holistic and analytical systems of thought, respectively. Ancient Chinese metaphysics are based on holistic ways of understanding the world: all encompassing; the object or event is attended to in relation to the context in which it exists. There is now historical evidence that individuals who grew up, live and move within contemporary Chinese cultural contexts exhibit cognitive processes that are comparable with those of Ancient Chinese metaphysics (Nisbett et al. 2001). In contrast, Western systems of thought, developed from Ancient Greek metaphysics are based on analytical cognition: the focus of attention is on objects, events and their characteristics aimed at categorizing them (ibid.). An individual who grows up and is educated within a Chinese cultural context is likely to understand any given aspect of the world with respect to other aspects that stand in relation to the former; whereas someone who grows up in a Western cultural context (e.g., the United States) is likely to examine the same aspect of the world analytically by focusing on the aspect as a single unit. Take the example of a perfume ad on a billboard: the focal point is the flacon positioned in the center of the billboard. Following Western systems of thought, one recognizes the flacon first and by itself while giving less attention to the background (shapes, colors, etc.) In contrast, someone who has learned to understand the world holistically would recognize the flacon according to Eastern metaphysics, that is, in relation to the whole picture, the Gestalt4: The background (shapes, colors, etc.) stands in relation to the focal point, the flacon. We have yet to include these concepts into our investigations of odor preferences. This might be of interest to the fragrance industry, as an understanding of how consumers conceptualize their products and what exactly the consumer attends to when experiencing

I am using the term Gestalt following Wertheimer (1925). Gestalt refers to the view that a collection of entities (objects, events, experiences) of multiple natures create a unified (holistic) concept that is greater than the sum of its parts.



an odor (specific notes of the fragrance) might decide success or failure of the product. This might explain why fragrance material sold in Japan has less intense notes than those sold in Germany (see Schleidt, above; see also Wysocki et al. 1991): The Japanese consumer seeks to experience the whole Gestalt of the fragrance (holistic) without being `bombarded' with one single - in this case flowery - scent, while the German consumer is satisfied to get a good whiff of an intense flowery scents (analytical). Individuals who grow up and are immersed in holistic metaphysics are endowed with a relatively lesser sense of individuality than those who grew up in an individualistic cultural group. Nisbett and colleagues suggest that the East-West polarity, although not necessarily occurring in the context of marketing (global market), might still exist in people's way of seeing or smelling the world. Odor associations as Gestalten take on different forms in accordance with one's upbringing.

5. Forming Culturally Scented Knowledge: Individuality and Idiosyncrasy of Olfactory Experiences The physical world, including our bodies, is a response of the observer. We create our bodies as we create the experience of our world. Deepak Chopra Olfactory experiences are idiosyncratic; there are as many olfactory experiences, odor evaluations and odor associations as there are individuals. Each individual is the sole generator and owner of his or her experiences. One continuously weighs up culturally learned knowledge about odor preferences (common scents) and one's own personal attitudes to odors when forming culturally scented knowledge. Genetic make-up, physiological and cognitive processes, as well as the odorant's molecular properties and environmental factors such as temperature, influence how one makes scents of odorants and generates culturally scented knowledge. Olfactory experiences can be influenced partially by one's evolutionary legacy: you simply cannot experience an odor that you cannot perceive, e.g. if you are anosmic.


Scientists report that approximately half of the adult population cannot perceive an odor when exposed to androstenone (5-androst-16-en-3-one) (Wysocki et al. 1989). That is, nearly every second individual is anosmic to the odor of androstenone. Anosmia is generally explained as a defective or missing molecular receptor that is responsible for detecting the odor. The ability to perceive androstenone can, however, be acquired by anosmic individuals who have frequent exposure to the compound (ibid). This suggests that the line between one's evolutionary legacy and one's learning processes is not always clear-cut; instead, evolution and learning complement each other in cases such as reported for androstenone. Further variations of olfactory experiences of the chemical compound androstenone are based on the odor quality. Odor preferences will be markedly different depending on the quality that is perceived. Within the individual, additional factors play a role when individuals form impressions of the surrounding world, generate odor associations, make scents of odors and generate their personal scented Umwelt. The key factors are early odor associations based on emotions, prior experiences and expectations (Bartoshuk 1991; Engen 1991; Herz et al. 2004; Hudson and Distel 2002). Hedonic odor evaluations reflect one's emotional response to the situation in which the odor is perceived in the first instance. Events, objects or other individuals all can be associated with an odor. Odor preferences are affective responses: immediate, charged with emotion and generated involuntarily (Bensafi et al. 2003). Hedonic responses to odors are formed more quickly when the odor is judged unpleasant; pleasant odors are processed more slowly (Bensafi et al. 2003; Bensafi et al. 2002). This time differential suggests that there are multiple systems and processes involved in evaluating odors and that negative odors are processed different from pleasant ones. Scientists distinguish odor-evoked memories from memories evoked by other stimuli on the basis of their emotional potency (e.g. Herz 1998; Herz and Cupchik 1992, 1995; Herz and Eich 1995). The emotive factor of human olfaction is well established in the psychological literature (Engen 1991: 5; see also Aloui-Ismaïli et al. 1997 and Aloui-Ismaïli et al. 1997). The emotive reaction and the affective evaluations of odors are immediate, whereas controlled


evaluations, which happen on a deeper level of cognition and understanding, follow subsequently. Scientific investigations of odor preferences typically focus on an individual's immediate response, the affective evaluation of odors. Scientific evidence suggests that humans begin to detect olfactory stimuli in utero, perhaps underlying the formation of early olfactory preferences (Schaal et al. 2000; Schaal et al. 2002): A mother's preference for food odors influences food odor preferences of the newborn (Schaal et al. 2000; Schaal et al. 2002), as do parental drinking (Menella and Garcia 2000) and smoking habits (Forestell and Menella 2005). A mother's preference for certain fragrances further impacts on early odor preferences (Schleidt and Genzel 1990). These findings suggest that maternal odor preferences influence the earliest and possibly most durable learned odor preferences of the child. The interaction between common scents and mother's individual preferences influences the newborn or infant. Mother's preference for certain odors contributes to an initial influence of the common scents. These initial exposures, however, are followed by a magnitude of others across the lifespan. As a child one acquires odor meaning form one's cultural background, later in life, there are many opportunities for individual learning as they move away from their parents. The question remains whether odor preferences, once learned, remain with an individual throughout one's lifetime. Further investigation is needed. Expectations about an odor further influence its hedonic evaluation. For example, familiar odors generally are given higher pleasantness ratings than unfamiliar ones (Ayabe-Kanamura et al. 1998; Distel and Hudson 2001; Jellinek and Köster 1983; Engen 1988; Rabin and Cain 1989). Expectations also influence pleasantness ratings: Dalton and colleagues showed that negative expectations about an odor result in lower pleasantness ratings than do positive expectations about the same odor (Dalton 1996; Dalton et al. 1997). This association also applies to cross-cultural investigations of odor preferences. In particular, food odors are rated as more pleasant if they belong to the cultural repertoire of the individuals under study (Ayabe-Kanamura et al. 1998; Distel et al. 1999; Chrea et al. 2004; Wysocki et al. 1991). These findings reveal general interactions


between prospective consumers of fragrances and marketing strategies. Another illustration of the impact of expectations on odor preferences stems from an evaluation of odor preferences for eugenol (cloves), an odor often found in dental offices due to the use of eugenol-containing cement (eugenates) in restorative procedures. Robin and colleagues evaluated subjects, who defined themselves as either non-fearful or fearful, based on their attitudes towards dental-care (Robin et al. 1998). Non-fearful subjects rated the odor of eugenol as less unpleasant than fearful subjects, consistent with the a priori negative attitude of fearful dental-care subjects towards dental offices (Robin et al. 1998).

6. A Model of the Multidimensionality of Odor Preferences One's cultural background influences odor preferences throughout the lifespan. Imagine your cultural background to be like an invisible backpack: Its structure is defined by certain ways of understanding the world, your cultural legacy if you like. The original contents of your backpack are defined by your upbringing. Through time and through experience, you fill the backpack with all kinds of meanings to which you can refer to when it comes to understanding the world. You continuously add more contents to your backpack with new stimuli you are exposed to. Odor meanings and preferences are part of this repertoire of meanings. They can change and they are individual and idiosyncratic. No backpack is similar to any other one. Certainly, cultural aspects influence individuals on much deeper levels of existence and experience than scientific understandings have previously suggested because experiences are individual and idiosyncratic but at the same time influenced by common scents (Damhuis 2004). Further, individuals negotiate and might even manipulate common scents: while an odor might be socially unacceptable, individuals might still like it. The more individuals like an odor, the greater is the chance that the social meaning of this odor might be changed over time. The market, the media and the internet are only a few means on the basis of which culturally learned knowledge could be modified. This is how


the repertoire of common scents, culturally learned knowledge, changes and develops. Common scents as a general measure are not the be all and end all of odor preferences. Through time and experience, acquired odor preferences might be subject to change as new odor preferences are generated. The interaction between cultural, physical and chemical as well as cognitive processes occurs when one makes `scents' of one's odorous surroundings and generates the individual Umwelt. Figure 1 represents a model of the generation of individual odor preferences (culturally scented knowledge) based on interactions between the commonly accepted odor preferences and individual odor associations. Common scents represent their own cultural-specific preference ratings as to the acceptability (pleasant) and unacceptability (unpleasant) of odors within the cultural setting on a scale between extremely unpleasant (-11) via neutral (0) to extremely pleasant (+11). Hypothetically, individual associations with odors are rated on a separate pleasantness scale. I hypothesize that individuals are likely to weigh the two pleasantness scales against each other when they make scents of odorants, either explicitly (conscious) or implicitly (non-conscious). The downward arrow represents the interaction between the two scales. Individual judgments of odors may be thought of as an interaction and results in the creation of individual odor preferences (culturally scented knowledge).


Common Odor Associations and Preferences "Common Scents"

+11 extremely pleasant +10 +9 +8 +7 +6 +5 +4 +3 +2 +1 0 -1 -2 -3 -4 -5 -6 -7 -8 -9 -10 -11 extremely unpleasant

Individual Odor Associations

+11 extremely pleasant +10 +9 +8 +7 +6 +5 +4 +3 +2 +1 0 -1 -2 -3 -4 -5 -6 -7 -8 -9 -10 -11 extremely unpleasant

Individual Odor Preferences "Culturally Scented Knowledge"

Figure 1: Cognitive Interactions between Common and Individual Odor Associations: Making Scents of Odorants: Individual odor preferences are the result of the individual's

interaction between common odor associations and preferences and one's own mind. While an odor might be regarded as unpleasant on the pleasantness scale according in the light of common understandings, the individual weighs his or her experience up against these understandings and makes up his or her own mind.

7. Summary and Implications for the Fragrance Industry The inclusion of cultural aspects into research on odor preferences has proven to be constructive because it broadens our general understanding about aspects influencing individuals' odors preferences. Cross-cultural research on odor preferences could be extended even further by including existing evidence for differences in cognitive systems, as discussed by Nisbett and colleagues (see above). Investigations of cross-cultural odor


preferences would indeed profit from an acknowledgement of differences in cognitive processes across individuals educated in different cultural groups, such as holistic (East) versus analytical (West) perceptions of the surrounding world, as pointed out above. Adding the anthropological perspective to consumer market research is a valuable and important step for developing our understanding about odor preferences on a crosscultural level. However, we could reach an even better understanding about odor preferences if we include the mechanisms involved when it comes to individual olfactory experiences and odor preferences. A first step is to understand how odor preferences are indeed generated by the individual. The individual, who is taken out of consideration in anthropological accounts, is well studied in scientific research as highlighted in this paper. The individual is the sole producer and owner of olfactory experiences, the generator of odor meaning and the evaluator of odors when it comes to liking or disliking. An acknowledgement of the interaction between cultural backgrounds and individual attitudes, a definition of strategies based on these acknowledgements, and an inclusion of these strategies into a model of marketing research promises a more focused and detailed approach for consumer-market research. The dimensions of the biological, physical and cultural dynamics significant in individual interactions with the scented surroundings need to be included in a search for reasons for variations in odor preferences across cultural groups and more so across individuals who constitute these groups. As amalgamations of biological and socio-cultural beings we move within our surrounding worlds and generate our own idiosyncratic odor preferences and our own individual scented Umwelt.

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