Persuasion and Smell – True false not given exercise

Persuasion and Smell

The link between smell and memory is well established; most people have experienced the phenomenon of unexpectedly encountering a smell, perhaps the scent of a particular flower or a specific cooking odour, which brings back a flood of long-forgotten memories. The fact that smell can conjure up feelings, whether enjoyable or unpleasant, is also undeniable; the perfume industry is built upon the premise that certain scents make us feel good about ourselves and, hopefully, also make us more attractive to others. But can smell do more than just evoke feelings and memories? Can it in fact alter people’s behaviour and decisions?

A tip offered by property magazines and estate agents to people trying to sell their house is to bake a batch of bread or cakes shortly before a prospective buyer arrives. The smell of freshly-baked produce is said to evoke feelings of comfort and happiness that the purchaser will associate with the house, thus making him or her more likely to buy it. The advice is well known, but is there any truth in it? Research into smell and how it is processed by the brain has come up with some interesting answers.

The olfactory system is the oldest sensory system in mammals and can process about 10,000 different odours. When people smell something, its scent enters the nose and is transmitted to the olfactory bulb, which forms part of the limbic system. Briefly put, the limbic system is a set of structures in the brain that govern emotional responses and memories, as well as regulating autonomic functions such as breathing and heart rate. Thus the sensory input from odours that enter the limbic system can trigger memories or involuntary emotional reactions, and these responses can be exploited by advertisers to influence potential customers. However, that is not the entire picture. The olfactory system also sends information to other parts of the brain that are responsible for more complex functions like language, abstract thought, judgement and creativity. In other words, smells not only provoke automatic emotional reactions, but also hold messages that may help people to generate mental models, form attitudes and make decisions.

A number of behavioural studies validate this hypothesis. Research conducted in France used scents like coffee, cinnamon and perfume to influence people’s reactions. The researchers chose a store front either on a street or in a mall and the area was misted with one of the aforementioned odours. As individuals walked past the misted store front, hired actors would drop wallets from a bag or purse. When the area was scented with one of the three scents, passers-by were more likely to pick up and return the object than when the area was not scented.

A commercial rather than moral experiment was undertaken with footwear. Two identical pairs of branded running shoes were placed in two different rooms, one of which contained scent previously shown to create positive feelings and one which had no scent added. Eighty-four per cent of participants in the study reported back that they were more likely to buy the running shoes in the room with the scent. An interesting additional finding was that the study’s participants estimated that the running shoes in the scented room were $10 more expensive.

Scent research also indicated a direct influence on improving sociability. A recent study in the US showed that when environments were sprayed with scents linked with hygiene, such as citrus, individuals reported a desire to connect with those who were in the vicinity of the scent. The respondents in that study also indicated that they were more willing to give money to charity and to help others. This again shows that scent holds messages that we incorporate and process alongside other sensory input to create mental models, make decisions, and alter our behavioural responses.

These findings may raise worries as they suggest that advertisers have greater power to influence consumers’ choices and behaviour than was previously thought. However, these fears are probably exaggerated. One of the other sections of the brain that processes input from odours is the prefrontal cortex. This structure is the reasoning centre of the brain and it enables people to think analytically before making choices. Its effect on regulating thoughts and behaviour is dependent upon each person’s character and levels of self-awareness. Although there are some individuals who receive external messages and react emotionally without thought, many others process and evaluate them before accepting or rejecting them. The majority of people are unlikely to be guided solely by odours when making significant choices; a persuasive argument or strategy would need to be added in order to influence their choices.

Furthermore, scenting an area does not mean people snap into a certain mode of action that would normally be wholly uncharacteristic for them; achieving that result would require a greater limbic system influence. Odours in certain environments can affect emotions, thoughts and behaviour, but the influence is contextual; the effects are immediate and dissipate once the surroundings have changed. It seems that a pleasant aroma might influence our choice of running shoes, but neither house sellers nor advertisers are about to take over our thoughts, decisions and actions by means of scents alone.

True false not given practice exercises 

Persuasion and Smell questions – true false or not given

20 Research has shown that smells associated with cleanliness can make people act in a more friendly and generous way.

21 The prefrontal cortex has a stronger effect on people who are more self aware.

22 Smell has been used in some countries’ legal systems in order to influence people to tell the truth.

23 Personality and self awareness determine how the prefrontal cortex deals with input.

24 Human behaviour can be influenced by smell when it is combined with other factors.

25 The sense of smell is one of the most studied human senses.

26 Smell can change buying decisions in any situation that a customer might be in.

27 The temporary influence of odour may inform the footwear we choose.

Persuasion and smell ielts reading answers

20. T (the sixth paragraph)

21. NG (the seventh paragraph)

22. NG

23. T (the seventh paragraph) Its effect on regulating thoughts and behaviour is dependent upon each person’s character and levels of self-awareness. Although there are some individuals who receive external messages and react emotionally without thought, many others process and evaluate them before accepting or rejecting them.

24. T (the seventh paragraph) The majority of people are unlikely to be guided solely by odours when making significant choices; a persuasive argument or strategy would need to be added in order to influence their choices.

25. NG

26. F (the eighth paragraph) Odours in certain environments can affect emotions, thoughts and behaviour, but the influence is contextual.

27. T – It seems that a pleasant aroma might influence our choice of running shoes

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