The Weary Whiffer
Published by Vincent D'Angelo on June 8, 2021
It’s 11:00 AM and our customer service line rings, “Yes, hello, there is no aroma in our lobby, can you please send someone to adjust our scent machine?” the hotel staff politely asks.
“Sure, I can help you with that” our service representative replies. “May I ask if you are currently in the lobby?”
“Yes, I am. I work at the reception desk and there is hardly any scent right now.”
“I see, are you able to put me on hold for a minute or two and walk out of the lobby, take a few deep breaths through your nose and then walk back in?”
“Um, ok. Sure” they say, confused about the strange request.
A clicking sound is heard then an on-hold message plays.
Two minutes pass –
“Oh, the smell is back. Thank you!”
As a Scent Branding firm, this is a common phone call that we receive.
When you are exposed to an aroma (pleasant or otherwise) for prolonged periods, your brain says, “Ok, let’s start checking for other odors that may be present in case there is something hazardous in the air that we need to know about.” Forever adapting, your brain basically ignores that pleasant-smelling hotel lobby (or auto showroom, spa, retail shop, etc.) in search of other scents, including anything that may be potentially harmful. Hopefully, nothing is burning and there are no gas leaks. Assuming there are not, your olfactory system will continue searching for new stimuli, like a radio continuing to search for a new channel when you are out in the countryside with no signal.
Everyone has experienced it at some point or another in their life, probably more often than they realize. It is an example of Olfactory Fatigue or Nose Blindness. Our bodies are constantly becoming desensitized to what is around us, and not just aromas. We become ignorant to that conversation next to us, or we stop feeling the eyeglasses that are perched on the top of our head. Or, as in the case above, we stop noticing the aroma that is in the air. We even lose the ability to smell our own body as the day progresses.
Neural functions such as these are known as sensory (or neural) adaptations. They are the body’s natural mechanism for preventing overstimulation of your senses. They are autonomic (involuntary) responses to the world around us.
Do Coffee Beans Reset Your Olfactory Receptors?
No, while there are plenty of fragrance shops and department stores around the world still offering you coffee beans to sniff in between perfume spritzes, it has been scientifically proven that the little caffeinated seeds DO NOT cleanse your whiffing palate. Just ask Dr. Alexis Grosofsky of Beloit College's Department of Psychology, she conducted the study which can be found here.
Can it Be Prevented?
There is no way to prevent this natural process from occurring. The only action you can take is to reset your sense of smell. The best way to do that? To get back to your original (ol)factory settings, simply step outside of the area and walk back in or bury your nose into the crook of your elbow and take a deep breath of good old unscented human flesh.
So, the next time you walk into your neighbor's house, and they are unfazed (and unapologetic) by the awful pet odor, whilst you are cringing your nose… you will know why.