The Subliminal Effects Of Odor

This is a fascinating study on how we make value judgments subliminally and possibly irrationally—when people didn’t know they were detecting an odor, they mistakenly attributed a sense of foulness to people shown to them on a screen.  When they did know they were detecting an odor, they didn’t let the odor affect how they judged the people.

When the volunteers didn’t detect the odor at all, they rated faces as significantly more likeable when they smelled the pleasant lemon scent, compared to when they sniffed the unpleasant sweat odor (the difference between lemon and neutral and control scents was not significant). By contrast, the students who were able to detect odors showed no significant difference in likeability ratings, no matter what type of odor they smelled.

So when odors are truly subliminal — when we can’t consciously detect them at all — they do affect our ratings of others. The authors argue that when we are conscious of odors, we attempt to account for them in our value judgments. In this case, viewers recognized that the odor was unrelated to the face they were rating, and could successfully account for that fact. When they weren’t conscious of the odor, then processing probably occurred at a different level.

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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