It is a fact that smells affect the way we think and process information. Studies have shown that odours trigger all sorts of cognitive changes in humans, and can be used by corporations or the government to influence populations and even intentionally “zombify” people who don’t fit the mould of accepted behaviour and thought.

A 2011 study published in the journal Sensors is one such paper that explains how intentional odour exposure influences brain function, producing shifts in mood, thought, and understanding. Much like drugs, scents contain unique pharmacological properties that enter the bloodstream upon inhalation, where they eventually cross the blood-brain barrier and trigger cognitive changes.

Scents used to draw people to products, make them repeat buyers

The paper, while explaining how this fascinating process works, actually encourages the use of odours for such purposes. And you can be sure that this is already taking place since thousands, if not millions, of synthetic scents are being used by corporations right now to manipulate the public into buying their products, for instance.

The wafting essence of apple cider and pine trees during the Christmas season is one example of how a shopping mall, for example, might entice customers to visit more stores and purchase more things. Personal care products, air fresheners, laundry detergents, and many other consumer products also contain precisely formulated scents designed to keep customers coming back for more.

In these examples, scents are typically used to draw people in for the purpose of expanding corporate profits. But what about the idea of using scents as weapons, such as to inhibit critical thinking or depress a person’s mood? Olfactory engineering is admittedly used for all sorts of nefarious purposes, and continues to be exploited in ways that most people don’t even realie.

Olfactory engineering used to ‘weaponize’ chemical triggers

Pheromones, for instance, which are chemical triggers naturally released by insects, animals, and people, can be used to alter things like hunger and sex drive. If weaponized, pheromones could be released for the purpose of drawing a group of people to one specific place for an ambush, for instance, or to create chaos in a particular location.

From a cognitive perspective, certain manufactured scents have been shown to induce negative emotions. Malodours, which may include many synthetic odours designed to mimic real ones, can affect mental performance on tasks like reading and arithmetic. Other scents can induce fatigue and brain fog, leading to sedation and in some cases indifference.

“Odours are being manipulated, as cues to persuade desired cognition, behaviour and moods,” explains one report on the subject.

“Memory quality, memory tasks, word recall, spatial memory, numeric working memory, can [be affected] by odour, (and) delayed memory recall and delayed picture recall can all be influenced by the introduction of odour.”

Essential oils shown to counter negative effects of olfactory engineering, odour pollution

Natural scents like essential oils, on the other hand, can be used to counter the damaging effects of olfactory engineering. Depending on the type and combination, essential oils have been shown to positively affect things like memory, vigilance, pain perception, decision making capacity, alertness, and energy levels.

Lavender, for instance, has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, and can also help promote a restful state before sleep. Peppermint and rosemary, on the other hand, are often used to boost energy levels and improve alertness.

“It is concluded that the pharmacological properties of odours can induce changes in cognition,” explains the study, adding that “odours can be used as contextual cues to cognitions, behaviour, and mood.”