Smell and creativity
When I was a girl at St Andrew’s School in Senderwood, Johannesburg, I used a certain kind of deodorant, which I don’t use anymore. Nowadays, if I walk past anyone wearing that product, my head fills with images of dank change rooms and the horror of obligatory sport, which I was never any good at it, for many reasons. My friend Helen Worswick (who may recognise that image as she was also at that school) suggested I talk about creativity and smell specifically, as a response to my blogs on “A coffee a day”. For her, the smell of coffee seems to be her own special kind of trigger.
The olfactory response is a massive one. Essentially, one’s ability to smell comes from specialised sensory cells (called olfactory sensory neurons) that are found in a small strip of tissue, called the olfactory epithelium, high up in the nose. The brain connects to these cells and each olfactory neuron has just one odour receptor. Human beings have about 450 olfactory receptors, as compared to dogs, which have twice as many. These receptors work in a special relationship with odours – a bit like locks and keys. As the odour molecules come into the nose, they will bind better with certain receptors than others and the way odours interact with receptors allows us as human beings to pick up a wide variety of smells. What may be a single smell to us – coffee for instance – acts on a combination of receptors, allowing us to identify it.
But what does this mean for creativity? Smells, like many senses can become associated with certain memories, which in turn can trigger specific reactions. For example, if you were to have an operation in a hospital, you might after that experience anxiety every time you smell disinfectant. In essence, this becomes a conditioned response. In the same way, you might find the smell of coffee is associated with a happy, productive time when you write, in which case the conditioned response is a positive one.
Scientists have also discovered that certain smells create different reactions, whether physical or emotional.
Here are some smells to help you set your mood:
- Orange smells: reduce anxiety
- Vanilla: relaxation effect
- Lemon and jasmine scents: enhanced cognition (thinking)
- Cinnamon-vanilla combination: enhanced creativity
- Peppermint: physically energising and also enhances muscular (physical) performance
- Cedar: reduces tension
- Lavender: tension reduction
- Rosemary: enhanced long-term memory and energy
- Grapefruit: energising
Do you find smells enhance your creativity? Which ones? And how do you use this to your best advantage?