Fifty-five women were photographed and had their photos rated on levels of attractiveness and perceived age. Afterwards, new participants were asked to rate the photos during exposure to certain odors, and evaluated between 'extremely attractive' and 'extremely unattractive'.
The researchers found that more pleasant odors linearly increased the perceived attractiveness of the photo. However, age differences could still be assessed by participants regardless of pleasantness of the odor. Based on these findings, the authors suggest that the neural mechanisms that process attractiveness and odor feed into one affective (emotion-based) system. On the other hand, the ability to assess age is dependent on more cognitive (higher thought processing) factors, and so odor + age do not interact in the same fashion. Humans seem to be able to recognize age differences regardless of odor when presented with facial cues.
Scented cosmetic products are used across cultures as a way to favorably influence one's appearance. While crossmodal effects of odor valence on perceived attractiveness of facial features have been demonstrated experimentally, it is unknown whether they represent a phenomenon specific to affective processing. In this experiment, we presented odors in the context of a face battery with systematic feature manipulations during a speeded response task. Modulatory effects of linear increases of odor valence were investigated by juxtaposing subsequent memory-based ratings tasks ? one predominantly affective (attractiveness) and a second, cognitive (age). The linear modulation pattern observed for attractiveness was consistent with additive effects of face and odor appraisal. Effects of odor valence on age perception were not linearly modulated and may be the result of cognitive interference. Affective and cognitive processing of faces thus appear to differ in their susceptibility to modulation by odors, likely as a result of privileged access of olfactory stimuli to affective brain networks. These results are critically discussed with respect to potential biases introduced by the preceding speeded response task.
Seubert J, Gregory KM, Chamberland J, Dessirier J-M, Lundstro?m JN (2014) Odor Valence Linearly Modulates Attractiveness, but Not Age Assessment, of Invariant Facial Features in a Memory-Based Rating Task. PLoS ONE 9(5): e98347. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0098347
PLOS ONE: Odor Valence Linearly Modulates Attractiveness, but Not Age Assessment, of Invariant Facial Features in a Memory-Based Rating Task