Sensory Experiences and Digital Messaging: Health Impacts

By Gillian Christie and Adriana Selwyn

In 2004, the Nobel Prize in Psychology or Medicine was jointly awarded to Richard Axel and Linda Buck for their discovery of odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system – the science underlying the sense of smell.

Since 2004, Axel and Buck’s seminal discovery has led to the rapid advancement of scientific evidence to focus on sensory experiences. Innovative solutions have emerged to create products that meet consumer demands. Companies like Firmenich and Givaudan, for instance, are creating more appealing healthy products by adding desired flavors to foods and drinks, such as low-calorie flavored teas. There is potential to change people’s perception that if a food is healthy it is likely to taste (and smell) bad. Research institutes like the Monell Center are conducting further interdisciplinary research on relationships between taste and smell.

Producing scents for digital messaging is the most recent innovative solution that targets sensory experiences. Scentee has launched a cartridge that inserts into a smartphone’s headphone jack, which can send a whiff of fragrance with the arrival of a text message or email. This fall, Vapor Communications will additionally mass produce its oPhone Duo, a device that releases scents based on the categorization of iPhone photos.

Scents for digital messaging depend on oChips (the “o” being for olfactory). oChips are pellets that include between one and four aromas. If a user wants to create a smell for a specific food or experience, they choose notes of related smells. The chips are subsequently positioned so that the air flows over them to create the desired scent. There are currently enough aromas to create over 300,000 smells, with each chip lasting for 1,000 uses and costing $2. The oPhone Duo works with 8 oChips, each with 4 aromas.

With 80% of flavors we taste coming from smells, innovations that target sensory experiences can impact healthy choices and dietary habits. Unhealthy foods could be assigned a stronger, less enticing smell to discourage excess calorie intake, impacting chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, while smells for healthier products could encourage greater consumption of these foods. Axel and Buck’s research was a significant step forward in understanding the olfactory system, though technology that links tastes and smells for health is an area to keep an eye (and nose) on!

Would you be interested in using devices that emit smells? Are there any types of smells you can think of that would curb unhealthy cravings? Tweet at @VitalityInst, Gillian Christie @gchristie34 or Adriana Selwyn at @adrianaselwyn1.


Image Source: Wired.Com

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