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Good Looks and Pleasant Scents

Want people to think you’re even prettier than you are? Spray on some perfume, or have some flowers in the vicinity.

New research shows that women’s faces get a higher attractiveness rating when pleasant odors are in the vicinity. However, the odors didn’t affect people’s evaluation of age.

“Odor pleasantness and facial attractiveness integrate into one joint emotional evaluation,” said lead author Janina Seubert, PhD, a cognitive neuroscientist who was a postdoctoral fellow at Monell Chemical Senses Center, in Philadelphia, at the time the research was conducted. “This may indicate a common site of neural processing in the brain.”

In the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, 18 young adults, two thirds of them female, were asked to rate the attractiveness and age of eight female faces, presented as photographs. The images were of varying ages.

While the participants looked at the images, one of five odors was simultaneously released. These were a blend of fish oil (unpleasant) and rose oil (pleasant) that ranged from predominantly fish oil to predominantly rose oil. The subjects were asked to rate the age of the face in the photograph, the attractiveness of the face and the pleasantness of the odor.

Odor pleasantness directly influenced the ratings of facial attractiveness. When it came to age, the participants, when smelling a pleasant odor, judged older and younger faces as closer in age than they actually were.

Jean-Marc Dessirier, lead scientists at Unilever and a co-author on the study, said, “These findings have fascinating implications in terms of how pleasant smells may help enhance natural appearance within social settings. The next step will be to see if the findings extend to evaluation of male facial attractiveness.”

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