How sense of smell can affect our perception of colours: Study | Health - Hindustan Times

How sense of smell can affect our perception of colours: Study

ANI | | Posted by Tapatrisha Das, Boston
Oct 07, 2023 08:12 AM IST

The study shows how the brain processes the flood of information with the help of five senses, often connecting smell with colours.

We receive constant environmental input through our five senses. Combining information from two or more senses, such as between odours and the smoothness of textures, pitch, colour, and musical dimensions, is one way our brain makes sense of this flood of information. As a result of this sensory integration, we also link certain colours to the flavours of specific meals, such as the flavour of oranges with the colour of the same name, and greater temperatures with warmer colours, lower sound pitches with less elevated places, and so on.

How sense of smell can affect our perception of colours: Study(Unsplash)
How sense of smell can affect our perception of colours: Study(Unsplash)

Now, a study published in Frontiers in Psychology has experimentally demonstrated that such unintentional links with our sense of smell might influence how we perceive colours.

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"Here we show that the presence of different odors influences how humans perceive color," said lead author Dr Ryan Ward, a senior lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University in Liverpool, UK.

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Ward and colleagues tested for the existence and strength of odor-color associations in 24 adult women and men between 20 and 57 years of age. The participants were seated in front of a screen in a room devoid of unwanted sensory stimuli for the duration of the experiments. They wore no deodorants or perfumes, and none reported being color-blind or having an impaired sense of smell.

All ambient odors in the isolation room were purged with an air purifier for four minutes. Then one of six odors (chosen at random from caramel, cherry, coffee, lemon, and peppermint, plus odorless water as a control) was broadcast into the room with an ultrasonic diffuser for five minutes.

"In a previous study, we had shown that the odor of caramel commonly constitutes a crossmodal association with dark brown and yellow, just like coffee with dark brown and red, cherry with pink, red, and purple, peppermint with green and blue, and lemon with yellow, green, and pink," explained Ward.

Participants were presented with a screen that showed them a square filled with a random color (from an infinite range) and were invited to manually adjust two sliders - one for yellow to blue, and another for green to red - to change its color to neutral grey. After the final choice had been recorded, the procedure was repeated, until all odors had been presented five times.

The results showed that participants had a weak but significant tendency to adjust one or both of the sliders too far away from neutral grey. For example, when presented with the odor of coffee, they wrongly perceived 'grey' to be more of a red-brown color than true neutral grey. Likewise, when presented with the odor of caramel, they wrongly perceived a color enriched in blue as grey. The presence of the smell thus distorted the participants' color perception in a predictable manner.

An exception was when the odor of peppermint was presented: here, the participants' choice of hue was different from the typical crossmodal association demonstrated for the other odors. As expected, the participants' selection likewise corresponded to true grey when presented with the neutral scent of water.

"These results show that the perception of grey tended towards their anticipated crossmodal correspondences for four out of five scents, namely lemon, caramel, cherry, and coffee," said Ward.

“This 'overcompensation' suggests that the role of crossmodal associations in processing sensory input is strong enough to influence how we perceive information from different senses, here between odors and colors.”

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