Confidence, energy, sex appeal: That pretty bottle of perfume holds more than a pleasant-smelling liquid. It may be the best performance enhancer you’ve tried.

“Your Honor, my perfume made me do it.”

While this defense might not hold up in court, it could certainly pass muster with a jury of scent scientists. Their research suggests that the fragrance on your wrist (or wafting through the air) affects far more than your mood: it can actually change the way you behave. In one study, customers were willing to shell out more money for sneakers in a store with a floral scent that in one without. (Note to self: Don’t wear a tuberose-heavy fragrance within a mile of the mall.) According to another, a pleasing aroma enhanced people’s performance on word puzzles.

And a whiff of lemon just might summon your inner neat freak: After being exposed to a citrus scent, people eating biscuits were more likely to keep their table clean than people who weren’t exposed to odor; the researchers credited an association between the smell of cleaner and cleaning behaviour.

“Scent affects us all the time, even if we’re not aware of it,” explains neurologist Alan Hirsch,M.D., of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, who conducted the sneakers study. “It’s a quick way to induce a change in somebody’s mood, state, or actions. In a positive frame of mind, you tend to view everything less critically.” That’s why, for instance, the lobbies of Ritz-Carlton hotels have “an intoxicating rose scent-it makes you want to come back,” says Stephen Warrenburg, a researcher at International Flavors & Fragrances.

How it all works? Our sense of smell takes an express route straight to the limbic system of the brain-the part that controls emotion, memory, and behaviour. Certain scents produce an unconscious conditioned response based on memories (chocolate-chip cookies remind you of Mom, so their aroma probably makes you feel happy and secure); others elicit a purely physical change, stimulating the trigeminal nerves in the nose (the ones that make you sneeze when you smell pepper). And some are powerful enough to work in both ways.

The flip side of this scentual programming: Armed with the right information, you can manipulate your feelings and actions (and those of others!) to your advantage. So before you spritz another cent, ask yourself what you want it to do for you-then follow our advice for influencing these situations in your favour.
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