How Scent Affects Mood

While some scientific studies have shown that pleasing scents put a person in a more positive state of mind and unpleasant scents contribute to a more negative mindset (Knasko, 1992), it’s not the scent itself that causes the change in the mood. Instead, it is the memory and the resulting emotion the scent is associated with (Herz, 2002). 

Positively associated scents are linked to positive memories, and therefore, positive moods, whereas negatively associated scents are linked to negative memories, and therefore, negative moods.

This scent association is known as associative learning—the process by which an event, item, or scent becomes linked to another because of an individual’s past experiences (Herz, 2002). 

When you think back on positive summer recollections, you often remember the colors, scents, and flavors that go along with those memories. When it comes to smell, perhaps it’s the scent of coconut or the salty ocean breeze that reminds you of days spent at the beach. Or, it could be that the smell of conifers and damp earth transport you back to summer camp in the mountain woodlands.

Some scent associations may evoke a positive mood for you and a negative mood for someone else. It’s really all about the experience associated with the scent. Maybe the smell of gasoline triggers the memory of an unforgettable road trip. Perhaps the smell of charcoal or burning wood summons memories of summer barbeques and bonfires.

The point is this: Which scents remind you of summer, and how can you incorporate these fragrances into your life to improve your mood on an ordinary summer’s day?