The Scent of Attraction: How Smelling Good Can Improve How People Perceive Your Physical Attractiveness

The Scent of Attraction: How Smelling Good Can Improve How People Perceive Your Physical Attractiveness

When you’re getting ready to go out, you might start off by doing your hair, follow up with some make-up, and spritz yourself with your favorite scent as a finishing touch. After all, it’s not just enough to look good; you also want to smell good. What you might not have known, though, is that the latter can help you out with the former.


A study conducted earlier this year found that pleasant smells could improve the facial attractiveness of women significantly, making your favorite perfume more of a beauty tool than you may have thought.


The connection between smell and physical appeal is thought to have something to do with a mutual point of assessment of each quality in the brain. This would then translate into the assessment of one influencing that of the other, further suggesting that the connection between the two has more to do with science than simple preference. As cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Janina Seubert put it:

“Odor pleasantness and facial attractiveness integrate into one joint emotional evaluation. This may indicate a common site of neural processing in the brain.”


In this particular study, 18 participants were shown photographs of women while simultaneously being exposed to one of five odors (each of which was a mix of unpleasant fish oil and pleasant rose oil, and which ranged from predominantly fish oil to predominantly rose oil). Participants were then asked to assess the face in each photograph in terms of attractiveness, which resulted in findings that suggested a direct influence of odor on appearance. With each unpleasant odor, facial attractiveness ratings went down, and the opposite held true, as well.


Participants of the study were exposed to rose and fish oil scents while assessing photographs of women in order to see the link between odor and facial attractiveness evaluation (

Participants of the study were exposed to rose and fish oil scents while viewing photographs of women in order to see the link between odor and facial attractiveness evaluation (

Participants of the study were also asked to estimate the ages of the women in each photograph. In asking them to do so, the study also sought to examine a possible connection between odor and age perception. However, the findings suggested that this link which was considerably less noticeable than the link between attractiveness and smell.


In terms of age assessment, participants largely relied on visual cues, such as wrinkles, to estimate the age of the individual in each photo, a process which was more or less unaffected by odor.  But what the findings also suggested was that a pleasant scent seemed to make older individuals appear older, while also making younger individuals appear younger. The finding certainly remains in accordance, to some extent, with the overarching notion supported by the study: that smell and appearance are certainly connected.


While this particular study focused on the link between smell and attractiveness solely as it applied to women’s appearance, the same connection also applies to men. In a similar study, scientists at Oxford University also asked participants to assess the physical attractiveness of various men’s headshots in the presence of pleasant and unpleasant odors. Just as the first study demonstrated a more positive evaluation of women’s facial appeal in the presence of pleasant smells, this study found the same link between ratings of men’s appearance in the presence of different odors. As a smell got worse, so did the attractiveness rating, and vice versa.


If there’s anything we can learn from the findings of these studies, it is that there is definitely such a thing as a scent of attraction. While there’s a great deal of research on how your natural synthetic scent may play a role in how you attract others, the findings of these studies take it a step further. The connection established here between scent and perceived physical appearance certainly suggests that a little extra fragrance certainly can’t hurt. If anything, your perfume may have just gone from being your finishing touch to being the most important tool in creating your look — literally.


Do you find smell to be a big factor when it comes to how you perceive the physical attractiveness of others? Share your thoughts below, or tweet me @tamarahoumi

Tamara Rahoumi

Tamara Rahoumi is a third-culture kid of Egyptian descent who was born and raised in New Jersey. She loves experiencing new things, and is in a constant state of wanderlust. She has spent a year studying in Switzerland and another teaching in Albania. Tamara graduated from Rutgers University, where she studied political science and cultural anthropology. She reports on a variety of stories for MUIPR. Follow Tamara on twitter @tamarahoumi.

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