Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Straight Skinny on Thin-Making Perfumes

Sali Oguri, who blogs on perfume and music at Pink Manhattan, has a new piece on about perfumes that make the wearer seem thinner.
Every now and then, we hear about some new “scientific”
discovery that a scent or formula was proven to make us
more attractive to the opposite sex.

Right now, the talk of perfumistaville is the Spicy Floral
perfume, often reported (even on AOL yesterday) that it
makes men think women are up to 12 lbs. lighter than they
really are.
Oguri puts the word scientific in scare quotes, but in fact there is evidence that a woman can make men think she weighs less by wearing a certain type of fragrance. The work was done by Alan Hirsch, a Chicago M.D. who runs a smell and taste clinic, holds several patents, and has written six books about smell.

Hirsch used a 5’9”, 245 pound woman as a model. On different days she wore one of three test scents as 50 men estimated her weight. Here’s how he describes the results:
Among the men tested, neither odor 1 (citrus floral) nor
odor 2 (sweet pea & lily of the valley) seemed to affect the
perception of weight. However, odor 3 (floral and spice)
significantly reduced the perception of the woman’s weight
by an average of 4.1 pounds. More remarkably, those men
who found the floral and spice odor to be pleasant perceived
the woman to be a full 12 pounds less than her actual weight.
Hirsch has filed for a patent based on the concept. In “Method of altering weight perception” (United States Patent Application 20040137086, July 15, 2004) his main claim is:
A method of modifying perception of body weight, comprising
the step of: administering to a person for inhalation an effective
amount of a composition comprising a hedonically positive
mixture of a floral odorant and a spice odorant, wherein the
person perceives the body weight to be about 5-10% less than
actual body weight.
What kinds of odors qualify as floral and spice?
Examples of floral odorants include jasmine, lilac, lily of the
valley, magnolia, rose, lavender, geranium, hyacinth, orange
blossom, apple blossom, carnation, and mixtures thereof.
Examples of spice odorants include cinnamon, ginger, cloves,
nutmeg, oriental spice, and mixtures thereof. In a preferred
embodiment, a mixed floral odorant and a mixed spice odorant
are employed.
So how does a smell alter a guy’s perception of a woman’s weight? Orguri speculates about the multisensory impressions produced by smell:
Perhaps the trick here is to keep the fragrance high-pitched,
just as light and airy instrumentation in music with harps
and flutes can make an audience visualize sprites.
I think she’s on the right track. Smell is linked to the other senses. For example, I’ve shown that people naturally relate smells to auditory pitch: some smells are matched to high notes, others to low notes. (You can download a copy here.) We casually speak about some smells being “light” and others “heavy.” It wouldn’t surprise me if the “weight” of a scent altered our estimate of another person’s body weight.


+ Q Perfume said...

I wonder if I can find a fragrance that makes me feel taller, since weight is not my concern but high is...:-)

Avery Gilbert said...

+ Q Perfume:

I don't know that there's a fragrance that can help you. Your best bet is to jump down the rabbit hole and have a bite of the cake that has "EAT ME" spelled out in currants.

Sali Oguri said...

I'm glad I was right about something - my music lessons are finally paying off! This was an informative post - it's good to see a definitive list of notes described as "spicy floral". I didn't know all those white florals I love are considered spicy. I'd like to quote that from you when I write Part 2 on this subject someday. Btw, I said "science" because I realized that men in my reality are not usually good judges of women's body weight. I'd love to get more details on how the experiment was conducted to get a better understanding (were they given multiple choice or did they come out with figures independently?). I appreciate that Dr. Hirsch concludes saying his hypothesis may be true, leaving it open to further investigation.

Avery Gilbert said...


My read of Hirsch's experiment is that the male observers gave their own estimates of the scented lady's weight.

You may be right that men aren't particularly good at this--but the key thing is that the spicy floral scent made them give lower estimates. You may have discovered a paradox here: what if the scent works because men are poor estimators? If they were better at guessing a woman's weight, or more certain about their guesses, the scent might not have as much impact on their perceptions.

Sali Oguri said...

Dr. Gilbert,

Thank you for your kind reply. The estimates were based on averages, yes? If so, I would love to know what the range of estimates were in all of the groups. It's likely irrelevant info to most people, but to perfume lovers, we want all those fun little details. Re: men guessing women's weight - honestly, I don't think I could quite accurately guess anyone's weight beyond a certain weight (one closer to mine, maybe). Many thanks again, and I'll let you know when I write a cross-post.

Sali Oguri said...

Dr. Gilbert,

Please feel free to comment on my newest post at The Examiner: Spicy Florals Part 2: The science of smelling 12 lbs. thinner

Thank you!

Olfacta said...

I'm not sure any man would be able to accurately guess at a woman's weight, since no woman has ever told any man (with the possible exception of her anesthesiologist) what she really weighs!