• AChemS Education Corner

Do You Think You Really Know What You smell?

Contributor: Anne-Marie Mouly, Team Olfactory Coding and Memory, Centre de Recherche en Neurosci-ences de Lyon, Lyon, France

Target audience: Ages 6 and older.

Goal(s): To experience that visual clues influence our perception of odors.

  • Peppermint extract
  • Banana extract
  • Strawberry extract
  • Odorless food colorings: red, green, yellow
  • Small balls made of absorbent material
  • Small transparent plastic cups with a cover
  • Prepare three plastic cups: a red one with mint, a green one with banana, a yellow one with strawberry;
  • Present a single participant with the three cups mentioning that there is an odor in each cup.
  • Ask them to look at the cup and guess which odor it is;
  • Let them smell and ask them to guess which odor it is.
Take-home message: Seeing where an odor comes from influences the way we perceive odors and can trick us to think that we are smelling something that we are not.

If you want to read up more on this topic try this scientific paper:
Zellner, D. A., Bartoli, A. M., & Eckard, R. (1991). Influence of color on odor identification and liking ratings. The American journal of psychology, 547-561.