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Design Psychology: How Our Sensory Responses to Aromas Create Happy Homes

Our sense of smell elicits strong emotional reactions and triggers powerful memories, whether we're consciously aware of it or not.

Scents and Feelings

Our olfactory system sends a chemical message about the scents around us through the limbic part of our brain, which is the oldest part of our brain. In seconds, that message is telegraphed to our central nervous system, which, in turn, controls how our body functions and how we feel about those smells.

Scents also influence the temperature we feel emotionally. For instance, a grass matting floor covering has a pleasant scent, and makes us feel cooler, while the aroma of fresh baked bread creates a warm feeling of being loved. Marine scents, such as salty sea air, refresh us, while spice and wood scents bring warm thoughts.

The Evolution of Aromatherapy

The ancient civilizations of Arabia, Babylon, China, Egypt, Greece, India, and Rome all used the aromas of scented plants, flowers, and woods to heal and protect. Religious and spiritual ceremonies have used aromas to arouse mankind's deeply spiritual nature from the dawn of time. Today, the science of aromatherapy, which is a holistic healing practice, uses essential oils and herbs, to treat stress-related illnesses, muscular, circulatory, respiratory, and digestive ailments, and even skin problems.

The Effects of Scent on Emotions

Essential oils influence our emotions within seconds of inhalation. For instance, clary sage stimulates the thalamus to release a hormone called encephalon, a neurochemical that creates a sense of euphoria and provides pain relief. Lavender and chamomile fuel the release of serotonin, which has a calming effect on fear, stress, aggravation, or insomnia.

Scents activate the deep part of the brain, where memories are stored. You can recreate pleasant memories and share them with your family and friends through the use of smells. For instance, my mother often baked a cake just before we kids arrived home from school. Now that I've grown up, we don't eat as much cake in our home, but sharing a vanilla scent with my children often prompts them to share stories about their grandmother.

Smells are a powerful link with the memories of our past. My mother used to tell me stories of her grandmother, whose home smelled like baked cinnamon rolls in the morning and exotic, tangy spices in the evening.

The sense of smell, a potent tool in Interior Design Psychology, brings a feeling of harmony and serenity to any room in a home. Embrace the scents you love and those that conjure pleasant memories, and make the use of scent an integral part of your overall design plan.

Copyright (c) 2004 by Jeanette J. Fisher

Jeanette Fisher, Design Psychology Professor, is the author of Joy to the Home eNewsletter. Discover innovative Interior Design Psychology and makeover your home to support happiness, productivity, and well-being. For Design Psychology information, see http://www.designpsych.com/ For more information about "Joy to the Home," see http://www.joytothehome.com/

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