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PERCEPTION OF ARTFICIAL PLEASANT ODOURS

IN THE AGE OF OLFACTORY CONSUMERISM


Dissertation submitted to the Department of Communication
and Journalism in partial fulfillment of the Requirement for the
Degree of

MASTER OF COMMUNICATION AND JOURNALISM

Carried out by:


SRUTHY GOPAL

DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATION AND JOURNALISM


UNIVERSITY OF KEARLA
Thiruvananthapuram

2013

PERCEPTION OF ARTFICIAL PLEASANT ODOURS


IN THE AGE OF OLFACTORY CONSUMERISM

Dissertation submitted to the Department of Communication


and Journalism in partial fulfillment of the Requirement for the
Degree of
MASTER OF COMMUNICATION AND JOURNALISM

Carried out by:


SRUTHY GOPAL

Certified Bona Fide Work

Dr. Subhash K.
(Supervisor)

DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATION AND JOURNALISM


UNIVERSITY OF KEARLA
Thiruvananthapuram

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

I have great pleasure in acknowledging the help of all those who have made this work a
success.
I wish to express my sincere gratitude to Dr. Subhash K. Head of the Department,
Department of Communication and Journalism, University of Kerala, for guiding my study.
My thanks also go to many fine people who patiently participated in my survey and thus
channeled and shaped the content of my study.
I extend my sense of gratitude and sincere thanks to my teachers in the Department and
my friends for their wholehearted support and constructive comments.

Sruthy Gopal

CONTENTS

1.

Introduction1-20

2.

Review of Literature21-34

3.

Methodology.35-39

4.

Results and Discussion..40-56

5.

Conclusion.57-59

6.

Bibliography

7.

Appendix

Knowledge is Experience

1
Introduction

Smell is a social phenomenon. It becomes a


powerful form of communication, when particular
meanings and values are attributed to it by
different cultures. Throughout the history of
human civilisation, smell acted as the building
blocks of cosmologies, class hierarchies and
social structures. The occupation of perfuming
united people, at the same time it divided. It
empowered and disempowered. It was treated
as divine as well as devils. Until the germ theory
was evolved, perfumes were highly associated
with heath and healing. Later on as the science
developed to reveal the microbes causing
diseases perfumes were invested with cosmetic
concerns. Quiet inevitably it became a part of
consumerism as it is today.

Olfaction as a Channel of Communication

Olfaction is the most powerful channel of communication, the most undermined too.
Odours are unavoidable signals in communication as they share their channel with life breath.
We cannot withhold or seal them. They spread without any external aid. Cutting across
physical barriers, they mix up with other odour molecules and erode. The only way to silence
an odour is to overpower it with another. Human beings have expertise in this overpowering
of natural unpleasant odours, including body odours, through scenting. And this affinity to
scents or intolerance to unpleasant odours is a notable difference between Homo sapiens
and Apes. That is why D. Michael Stoddart describes man as the Scented Ape. May be
because of this particular characteristic, human beings are highly insensitive to feeble smell
signals compared to other animals. When other mammals attract their mates through natural
body odours we have been trusting upon perfumes derived from other living or non-living
objects in nature even though human body possess more scent glands than any other higher
primates. (Stoddart, 1990, p7)
The theory of evolution proposed by Charles Darwin explains this characteristic of
humankind. As Homo sapiens got up in legs around five to seven million years ago, many
changes happened in his body structure. Separation of nose from earth, closing down the
sensing through excretions and secretions, was one of it. As human sense to smell changed
from earthy to airy sight became the primary channel of information as it could provide 180
distant view. Those who believe in the principle of gradual evolution will not readily admit that
the sense of smell in its present state was originally acquired by man, as he now exists. He
inherits the power in an enfeebled and so far rudimentary condition, from some early
progenitor, to whom it was highly serviceable, and by whom it was continually used, says
Darwin.(Darwin, 1871, p13)
When vision was hailed as the sense of reason, experiment, and science, it became
the language of truth, and pushed the other senses to the background. Meanwhile, smell was
demoted as the sense of intuition, sentiment, and sensuality, which had acquired negative
connotations. The act of deliberately or ostentaciously smelling objects, people, or our
surroundings started raising suspicion, especially among the higher social classes, and was
therefore best avoided. Smell was an animalist, and altogether dangerous sense, that soon
became associated with moral corruption. (Aspria, 2008, p6)
Sticking to this theory, some anthropologists and biologists even argue that human
nose is a vestigial organ, like appendix and coccyx. (Doty, 1981, p351) Stating the influence
of odours on our Brains, our Psyches and on different aspects of our Physiology, D. Michael
Stoddart cuts this statement (Stoddart,1990, p8).

In order to emphasis the power of smell, Classen, Hows and Synnott quote a man who
lost his sense of smell due to a head injury :
When I lost [my sense of smell]it was like being struck blind. Life lost a good
deal of its savorsone does not realise how much savors is smell. You smell
people, you smell books, you smell the city, you smell the springmaybe not
consciously, but as a rich unconscious background to everything else. My whole
world was suddenly radically poorer. (Classen, Hows and Synnott, 2003, p1)
Studies say that we can identify the things used by our dear ones through smell, which
means, even though we rarely use odours as a source of information, they do register in our
unconscious levels.

According to biologists, human nose can recognise and register

thousands of different odours. This effectiveness even in delicacy makes human sense to
smell to be attended as a significant channel of communication.
But, olfaction rarely identifies as a signal in communication studies. Maurice MerleauPonty in his work, Phenomenology of Perception (1945) says every sensation belongs to a
sensory field. This theory is also in synchronisation with the latest models of communication,
which treat source and receiver as a part of the context. The concept of a sensory field
implies that every object, which is perceived, belongs to a field of other objects, which are not
perceived. Every perceived sensation, therefore, belongs to a field of other sensations, which
are not simultaneously perceived by the subject. Again, it is attention that guides subjects
awareness to specific stimuli within the landscape or smellscape in which they are
immersed. (Harris RG, 2007, p12)
Odours have associative identification. Ones olfactory likes and dislikes are highly
associated with his or her cultural background and previous experience. There are two
perspectives on the origins of odour preference; the evolutionary perspective and the tabula
rasa-based hypothesis, or learning paradigm.
1.

Evolutionary perspective analyses odour preferences based on biological instincts to

keep harmful things away. The theory argues that there are predispositions in human
psychology as to whether like or dislike a smell. These predispositions are encoded in human
genes as an evolutionary legacy, it says. The physical repulsion towards the odour of rotten
egg is such a revolutionary legacy warning against eating that. (Schmidt and Beauchamp
1988, p1136)
2.

Tabula rasa or learning paradigm says human Brain is empty at the state of birth as the

word tabula rasa, which means blank state indicates. Odour likes and dislikes are formed
through experiences only. Smell associated with good experiences will be registered as good

smell and those of bad experiences will be rated as bad, argues the theory. This theory
backed with a number of experimental evidences fails to explain the predispositions.
(Damhuis, 2006, p4)
Both these theories are experimentally proved. Even though they are contradictory,
they can co-exist. It is sure that both culture as well as experience influences ones olfactory
likes and dislikes. Indians association of the smell of cow dung with divinity in contrast to the
westerners repulsion towards the same can be considered as an example of this coexistence. This repulsion or tolerance is environmental as well as cultural.
Odours influence both Intrapersonal and Interpersonal levels of communication. They
can evoke intense emotions and memories and thus can control thoughts. There was a belief
among the tribes of Africa that connects smell with dreams. A piece of ginger kept under the
bed will show the future through dreams, they say. (Classen, Hows and Synnott, 2003,
p155) Through olfaction, individuals interact with interiors as opposed to facades, as they do
through vision alone. Further, aromas do not convey direct structural information about the
shape, form, and discreteness of entities and, thus, confound the seemingly foundational idea
of a thing or object as a bounded, apparent entity. (Harris, 2007, p7)
Anthropologists and psychologists were curious about the ways in which odours play
with human psyche. Freud discusses a case study of a woman who was left with a unique
state of subjective sensation of smell followed by a trauma.( Freud, 1912, p14-27) She had
lost all perception of smell and was almost constantly bothered by one or two sensations of
smell, which was associated with the situation, lead to trauma. Out of all the sensory
perceptions of that scene, the perception of smell was selected as the symbol by her brain.
This shows a sensory bias in that person towards olfaction and how much influential it is in
intrapersonal levels of communication.
While in the case of Interpersonal communication, odours rarely act as a sharp
communication signal, in the modern society. However, ethnographic studies among tribal
cultures explain how it can still be a powerful channel of communication. As in the case of
animals, these tribal people use smell as a signal to hunt there prey. Their belief systems
suggest that the food one eats can change his body odour. And they manipulate their body
odour by controlling their food, which they think will deceive their prey (Classen, Hows and
Synnott, 2003, p134).
This sharp sense to smell is not completely lost for civilised man. There was a
commonly held belief among historians and military officials of the Vietnam War that
American smell had betrayed their positions. Adam Flynn suggests the importance of smell in

10

tracking and being tracked. American military command urged soldiers to treat patrols just
like hunting deer and minimise their use of deodorant and aftershave, while army doctors
noted a pattern of front-line refusal to wear mosquito repellent for tactical reasons. ( Flynn,
2011). To recount this theory he quotes one of the military records:
After six days in the jungle, the combination of stale sweat and plain old body
odour made us all stink. But the smell could actually be an advantage. Your diet gave
you a distinct aroma. The gooks smelled like rotten fish. We had been eating
Vietnamese indigenous rations for the past two weeks, just to pick up their smell. If any
trail watchers got downwind from our team, they would just think we were another VC
unit.
(Recondo: LRRPs in the 101st Airborne Larry Chambers, New York: Ivy Books, 1992)
The role of the sense of smell is vital in personnel relations also. There are
experimental evidences to prove that we can identify things used by our dear ones. Children
identify their mothers with smell. Smell in the context affect thoughts and there by influence
every bit of our communication, either in a positive or negative manner. Often, we are not
aware of the subtle smell in the contexts.
Odour played a significant role in the social categorisations too. Colour formed class
hierarchies and apartheid and odour variations derived through different life styles helped this
compartmentalisation to prevail. George Orwell describes the reason for class apartheid in
west:
Here you come to the real secret of class distinctions in the West the real
reason why a European of bourgeois upbringing, even when he calls himself a
Communist, cannot without a hard effort think of a working man as his equal. It is
summed up in four frightful words, which people nowadays are chary of uttering, but
which were bandied about quite freely in my childhood. The words were: The lower
classes smell.(Orwell, 1937, p116)
Olfaction functions as a social channel employed by individuals in many ways,
including the judgment of others. It has the potential to be employed in the stereotyping of
others based upon the expected and presumed. Categorisation is not predicated on the
visual alone (e.g., skin color, clothing, and weight), it also transpires via the olfaction as well,
arising from an individuals expectations of others and their smell. Thus, an individuals
perception and characterisation of odours may been seen as a sort of moral labeling, and as
the above as well as other similar examples support, such labeling of class, ethnic, and other
groups are accompanied by very real social squealae. (Harris, 2007, p90, 91)

11

Odours not only compartmentalise, they can unite people in many contexts. The
burning of incense in Catholic churches is an example of a ritual where group identification
occurs through smell. Here, the odour of incense itself has indeed become invested with
liturgical connotations. Obviously, the symbolic meaning of smell extends well beyond the
religious sphere. It can draw cultural boundaries, or create social distance; it can be a
warning signal, a status symbol, an impression management technique, or even a sign of
protest (Moeran, 2005, p97).

Classifications of Odours
The act of smelling is strictly a subjective experience, thus odours do not possess
common names in languages. Instead, we use certain categories to identify odours. These
categories can be certain actions or words with intense odour by nature. Examples are fishy,
flowery, fruity and degrading etc. We use the word fishy not only to denote fish or similar
aquatic organisms. Things with a flowery smell need not be flowers. Even a new shoe can
have a degrading smell. This means odours have associative memory. We connect every
new odour with the one registered in our frame of references. These associations
represented in literature made a common meaning that could be used to symbolise odours.
Still, odours are nameless, and are mediated though associations only.
There are classifications of odour such as foul and fragrant, dirty and clean etc. These
classifications with elastic overlapping boundaries vary with culture and context. Proposing an
olfactory classification model Marcello Aspria suggests:
[] the diametrical opposition between sameness and otherness,
integrated and marginalised, desirable and undesirable can be rendered by the
olfactory contrast between foul and fragrant. This contrast is not static or
universal; although it may be true that some odours are liked or disliked by
people of all cultures, foul and fragrant must be understood and analysed within
their cultural context just like the absence of smell can be perceived as
pleasant or disturbing, depending on the specific social setting or environment.
(Aspria, 2008, p4)
The diagram implies an opposition between 'clean' (B, D) and 'dirty' (A, C), as well as
between the 'natural' (A, B) and 'artificial' (C, D) realm. Both axes represent social contrasts:
what is dirty or clean, foul or fragrant is as much a reflection of moral values as the opposition
between virtue and vice. Hence, there is the differentiation between 'deodorized' and 'sterile'

12

around the center of the diagram, the latter being defined as the 'artificial' counter to the
former. Examples in each quadrant represent,
i.

The public dimension of the smell

ii.

The body

iii.

Definitions of femininity

Figure1: Olfactory classifications in contemporary Western societies proposed by Marcello


Aspria
This classification is insufficient to explain the origin of odour preferences and role of
culture and background in it. Examples in this diagram show clear personnel bias too. For
example, mountain smell need not be a pleasant smell for everyone. It is difficult to draw a
line between pleasant and unpleasant as they may vary with cultures. In addition to that,
odours can have different layers of meaning under different contexts, so that same examples
may be repeated in different quadrants. Bodily cleanliness can be both natural as well as
artificial and mountain smell can be both pleasant as well as unpleasant.

13

Still we have to have a structuralist approach for an empirical study in order keep it
focused. The two-dimensional diagram can play an important guiding role in olfactory
research design: it helps in making the elusive more tangible, and forces the researcher to
think in binary oppositions, stereotypes, stratifications, and hierarchies. This is, at the same
time, a major downside to the structuralist approach: if we are bound to predetermined
categorisations,

we

risk

being

lead

into

essentialisations,

oversimplifications

or

misrepresentations of social reality. Moreover, these categorisations are limited by the paucity
of our olfactory vocabulary. (Aspria, 2008, p10). We focus on the fourth quadrant of this
classification, artificial pleasant odours, assuming that perfumes covers major area of this.

Cultural History of Perfumes


Marshal McLuhan classifies media as Hot and Cold. Hot Medium is one that
intensifies that extends one single sense in high definition and cool medium is one of low
definition. On the other hand, hot media do not leave so much to be filled and completed by
the audience. And Hot media are therefore low in participation and cool media are high in
participation or completion by the audience (Mcluhan, 1975, p22). Likewise, natural odours
may be treated as cool medium which demands more participation from the audience while
perfumes can be hot medium that extends olfactory sense in high definition. Culturally there
was a huge difference between Eastern and Western civilisations in use and perception of
these media.
Our knowledge about the role of scent in antiquity is formed through inference from
ancient writings. Greek and Roman writings give the picture of a rich olfactory tradition in
west, which was highly influenced by ancient Middle East, especially Egyptians.
Scents were available in a variety of forms: as toilet waters or oils, as dry powders, in
thick unguents, or as incense. Whereas when we think of perfumes today, we inevitably
imagine them as liquids, an inhabitant of the ancient world would be just as likely to enjoy
perfume in the form of a thick ointment, to be smeared liberally on the body, or a fragrant
smoke, infusing the air with its odour. Our own English word perfume, in fact, literally means
to smoke through, indicating the importance this method of imparting fragrance had for our
ancestors. (Classen, Hows and Synnott, 2003, p16)
Perfuming was a social occupation in ancient civilisations. Writings on their feasts,
weddings, public entertainments, battles and even funerals have rich descriptions of
perfumes. Perfuming was an important element in their culture. They synthesised perfumes

14

and this was treated as an art in ancient Europe. (Classen, Hows and Synnott, 2003,p13-48
)
During the medieval ages, Christianity came to power and the Church leaders
considered the personal use of perfumes as a frivolous luxury tending to debauchery. While
much of the art and artifice of scent disappeared with the fall of the Roman Empire, perfumes
were too embedded in the ancient way of life. Therefore, Christianity gradually incorporated
and sublimated many traditional olfactory practices and beliefs. Thus by the sixth century,
incense, as a symbol of prayer, had become an acceptable part of Christian ritual. Fragrant
flowers and odours, in turn, figured in many Christian legends, serving as symbols of virtue or
miraculous signs of grace (Classen, Hows and Synnott, 2003, p50,51)
The age of industrial revolution was not only of more production but also of more amounts of
organic wastes. In eighteenth century writings cities were always depicted with a an air
poisoned by thousand putrid vapors, among butchers shops, cemeteries, hospitals, drains,
streams of urine, heaps of excrement, dyers, tanners, curriers stalls.(Louis Sebastian on
Paris).
Until the Industrial Revolution, bad odours were generated primarily by organic waste
and, while unpleasant, they tended to be accepted as a natural part of the cycle of life. As
country folk knew, odoriferous manure made for plentiful harvests. As for the industrial waste
which came later, ordinary people had no control over it and factory owners no wish to invest
in reforms.( Classen, Hows and Synnott, 2003,p56)
Along with the growth of industrial malodors, another industry has been growing to a
billion dollar business- the perfume industry. It nourished the hatred towards malodors and
even the natural body odours became intolerable.
But, the Indian cultural history of perfumes is little different. Western thinkers were
mainly concerned with understanding the temporal world, but the pre occupation of Indian
thinkers was with the transcend world. Eastern especially Indian Schools of philosophy,
focused on the holistic approach of life. The body was given least importance and thus the
body odour too. Thus compared to western tradition perfumes were subtle in Indian culture.
Indian concept of five elements is related to five senses. The five elements were
thought of as the medium of sense expressions- earth for smell, air for feeling, fire for vision
water of taste and ether (aksha) of sound.

Ancient Indians paid attention to smell, in fact

not only to smell but to all senses, and that was a spiritual occupation for them. Traces of this
culture that appreciate natural odours can be still found in Indian culture.

15

. Analysing the sense bias in Indian culture Classen and Howes wrote:
Perhaps the most splendid example of stimulating all the senses to the
same extent at the same time is provided by the traditional Indian courts: The fulfillment
of every sense was considered an art in the Indian courts. Scents were blended to suit
moods and seasons and were believed to complement the colour of clothing thus,
musk was worn with winter silks; vetiver was associated with lemon scent, and gossamer
went with summer garments. The complex combinatorics of emotions, seasons, and
sensations played out daily in these courts has no western equivalent. (Howes and
Classen,)
Rother in 1890 described the greeting of the hill people from Khyoungtha in India:
Their mode of kissing is strange; instead of pressing lip to lip they apply the
mouth and mose to the cheek, and give a strong inhalation. In their language they do
not say Give me a kiss but they say Smell me.
It will be significant to go through the evolution of this smell culture that
appreciated natural body odour and treated it as a powerful signal of communication.
The Indus civilisation left only archeological evidences for their existence. There were
only few sculptures and structures to understand their ways of living. Their writings are not
yet decoded. Anyhow, from the available details, this civilisation of 2500-3000 BC, lead a
simple life and they were not even paid attention to dress and ornaments. Nevertheless, they
were aware of hygiene.
Mohenjo-daro had impeccable sanitation arrangements, and was
probably the cleanest city in the world. Its streets were flanked by covered brick
sewage channels, which were provided at intervals with manhole covers to clean them.
[] equal care was taken for the disposal of household garbage, which was conveyed
through chutes built into the walls of houses into brick bins outside, from where it was
presumably cleared by municipal sanitation workers. (Eraly, 2004, p22)
There might have been an act of perfuming, but more than that the ancient Indus
civilisation paid attention to cleanliness, shows this writings. A curious structure of obviously
religious nature in the Mohenjo-daro was the Great bath, a pool in a cloistered courtyard,
somewhat like the Hindu temple tanks of later times. This Great Pool also shows a possible
act of perfuming which is social as well as possibly religious.

16

Coming to the Vedic period, we could find a number of examples of the use of
perfumes in ritual as well as social aspects. In Vedic period, people were little more luxurious
in India. On ceremonial occupations, they used special dresses and jewellery.
Though their dress was simple, Vedic Indians, both men and women,
were loaded with jewellery-necklets, earrings, anklets, bracelets and rings, all
preferably of gold- and even the warrior rode in to battle heavily bejeweled. Amulets
were worn for good luck. People were fond of perfumes and flower Garlands, and boys
and girls are described in Vedas as wearing lotus garlands and playing on swings. []
Aryans paid particular attention to grooming their hair. Woman, according to Atharva
Veda, braided their hair in three different styles, and decorated it with flowers. (Eraly,
2004, p121, 122)
Nothing natural was considered as foul in the Indian tradition. They kept horses and
castles in their houses. There was a ritual to begin with the construction of houses, at which
the Atharva Vedic priest recited:
Right here do though, O house, stand firmly,
Full of horses, full of cattle,
Full of abundance,
Full of sap, full of ghee, full of milk (Eraly, 2004 p199)
It was in recent years after the colonialism and the ongoing neocolonialism the smell of
cow dung and urine became repulsive in collective consciousness of India.
Smell had a role in the rituals also. Abraham Eraly, a famous Indian historian describes
a Vedic rite:
For the rite, the sacrificial animal was led to a stake fixed on a consecrated
ground spread with sacred grass and adorned with garlands and other decorations.
There it was tied securely, anointed with ghee, and ceremonially slaughtered. The
omentum of the animal was first offered to the gods on fire. The sweet smell of the
roasted omentum was considered irresistible to Vedic gods.( Eraly , 2004,p137)
The pleasant smell in the above description is those of sacred grass, garlands and
ghee. The description does not evoke feelings of strong scents as in the case of western
rituals. Still the role of odours is prevalent.
In the normal Vedic funeral rites, the corpse was first washed and anointed, his
hair, beard and nails trimmed and lay on the ground freshly daubed with cow dung. []

17

the omentum of the cow was placed on the face of the corpse, its kidney in his hand and
the whole body is covered with its skin. (Eraly , 2004,p150)
This description is in quite contrast with the present practice of funeral rites in India.
Today we fill the air with different kinds of perfumes, cinnamon, agarbathis etc. Our present
atmosphere of funeral is a battleground of foul and the fragrant. In Vedic period, the odour of
cremation was not considered as foul. Even though it was, the Vedic Indians were not
bothered to cover it. Instead, they burned a cow along with the corpse.
For ancient philosophers the human body was foul smelling. Foul smelling and
insubstantial is the body, a mere agglomeration of skin, bones, sinews, marrow, flesh, semen,
blood, mucus, tears, rheum, urine, faeces, bile and phlegm- what is the good in enjoying
desires in such a body?- asks King Brihadratha in Maitri Upanishad. They were also aware
that perfuming does not cure dirtiness of the body. Moreover, that was the major difference
between East and West.
Post Vedic literatures like, Kumarasambhava by Kalidasa, Kamasutra, Arthasasthra
and Agnipurana, there are writings on the scientific perfumery. Aromatic ingredients were
leaves, flowers, fruits, barks, woods, roots, exudations from plants and organic products like
musk, lac and civet. (Krishnamurthy, 1987, p76) Even though Kings, Merchants and Rich
landlords used perfumes, our religious customs rarely gave priority to perfumes in ancient
and medieval ages as it is now.
After visiting the Pagoda of Madhura, W. Urbick wrote in 1885:
The favorite idols are plastered with oil and red ochre; and there is a general
greasiness about the precincts by no means fragrant or cleanly. (Urbick, 1985, p55)
As we know, today our religious centers are filled with rich fragrance. Flowers are no
more the only agents of fragrance. We use rose water, cinnamon and perfumed oils and a
number of artificial and natural scents in places of worship. Today the status of no odour is
treated as repulsive at least in Shrines.
Smell was a key element of the social structuring in India as in the case of western
cultures. Mahabharatha , Indian epic written in the Vedic period, depicts contains a sub-story
of a fisherwoman named Malsyaganghi (one with fishy odour). As her name indicates, she
smelled fishy until a Brahmin- Parasaran- fell in love with her. After their mate, she was
blessed with sweet lotus smell and renamed as Sathyavathi. Later on, a King marries her as
he was attracted to her body odour. The story indicates the ways in which odour determined

18

the exclusivity of a caste and how love and sensuality could break this exclusivity maintained
through endogamous marriages and taboos.
Taboos related to castes and its olfactory associations are still prevail in Indian society.
The Hindu writes on frequent deaths of sewage workers across the country:
The four men, all Dalits, were not provided with safety gear. They entered the
sewer with only a handkerchief for protection. They were hit by the foul-smelling
methane gas and delayed in their escape by the thick muck that lines the sewer.
[]Sewerage workers, traditionally Valmiki Dalits, employed by civic bodies such as
the Water Board, Public Works Department (PWD), Municipal Corporations, have, for
generations, relentlessly toiled, continually risking their health and life to ensure upkeep
of the sewerage system. But save for hurt, exploitation and untouchability, they have
received little in return. Despite proactive orders of the Gujarat High Court (2006) and
Madras High Court (2008), the implementation of the directives remains unrealised, in
the wake of frequent deaths.
(The Hindu, 29th July 2013)
Still, Dalits are doing stinky jobs, not because of the caste system today, but because
of the class structure created through caste systems of past.
Keralites, like many other societies in pre-colonial India, had been used natural scents,
such as flowers of Ilanji and Kaita to keep their cloths perfumed. These flowers have subtle
pleasant odours. But Western writings about colonial India often described Indians as stinky.
When liberated, the Indian market was well set for the perfume industry to exploit our
inferiority complex. Thus, olfactory consumerism grew in India as in west.

Olfactory Consumerism
Consumerism is characterised by mans desire to buy things for their style rather than
for their function. Advertisers keep on saying that we are imperfects in our original status and
better people around are watching us. Therefore, in order to impress them we buy things that
we believe will improve our image.
This phenomenon of image marketing is more apparent in the advertising of
deodorants and fragrant than any other products. The control of body odour is a major
preoccupation of Westerners, who have made the deodorant and toiletry industry into a billion
dollar business. Although natural body odour is stigmatised and suppressed, artificial body
odourin the form of perfumes and colognesis condoned and even celebrated. Thus, while

19

deodorants strip the body of its natural olfactory signs, perfumes invest it with a new, ideal
olfactory identity. The dream merchants of the perfume industry who assure consumers that
all good things come to those with the right scent promote these ideal identities. (Classen,
Howes and Synnott, 2003, p180)
This olfactory consumerism is not only limited to toiletry products. It is their in a wide
variety of products ranging from detergents to fast foods. However, for advertisers body odour
is the perfect subject for a marketing campaign on nameless fears.
Studying different advertisements on this Classen, Howes and Synnott observe:
Individuals are unaware of their own smell, it cannot be seen (as ones visual
appearance can) in a mirror, and politeness decrees that it should not be broached by
even your closest friends. It is only through the ad, which speaks with the voice of an
objective third party, that one can be openly warned of the dangers of body odour.
(Classen, Howes and Synnott, 2003, p192)
Advertisers worked on a number of such fears- stinking mouth, sweat, dirty homes, and
malodor in car interiors. In addition, this was proved an effective strategy in creating market.
The widespread consensus about the offensive quality of natural body odours is a capitalist
tendency. Ruth Winter observes:
"The self-consciousness about our own and others' body odour is fed constantly today
by television, newspaper, and magazine advertisements. We are literally told that we stink our mouths, our armpits, and our genitals need special products to make them and us socially
acceptable. As a result of this obsession, we have done our best to repress smell in our
world. Billions and billions of dollars worth of vented bathrooms, household and body
deodorants, perfumes and other anti-smell devices have been developed (and become
integral parts of our lives)."( MacPhee,1992, p89)
There have been advertisements showing that ones appearance and impression
created though it will fight for him and bring him success. Appearance includes the body
odour too. Such advertisements repeatedly said, natural body odours are repulsive,
intolerable and anti-social.
Deodorants and Perfumes were the projected solutions. Deodorants made one socially
acceptable by killing his natural body odours and Perfumes were attributed with ability to
present one as attractive, efficient and successful irrespective of his actual abilities as a
human being. Deodorization and perfuming became an act of personality development from a
social occupation.

20

Today perfume advertisements uses terms similar to sensuality, enchantment and


mystery, directed to a single element of life. Often the bottle is given more important than the
fragrant inside. Perfumes now reflect a social status too. Many of us can distinguish between
the intense smell of a low class perfume and the classy smell of a branded one. Companies
inject pride among its users to create brand loyalty and to keep their market safe.
As the subcultures exploded to globalisation, perfuming became a part of Indian
lifestyle too. This must be an anticipated reaction of an oppressed community to be like the
oppressor. Moreover, Westerners frequently described Indians as stinky in their writings as
they did to any other culture unfamiliar to them. Anyhow, Western perfume industry created a
good market in India, during the colonial as well as postcolonial ages.
Now, in India also, artificial pleasant odours are used to sell a number of products- from
detergents to sanitary napkins. There must be a consumer psychology that makes people
buy such products only because of their fragrance even though their actual function is not
perfuming. Public bias towards artificial pleasant odours demands a discussion on the notions
attributed to artificial pleasant odours.
Notions of Artificial Pleasant Odours
In antiquity, pleasant odours were thought to be divine and were highly associated with
rituals. In medieval period, pleasant odours were associated with hygiene.
During the scourge of the Plague of the Black Death, which swept across Europe in the
fourteenth and fifteenth centauries, vast quantities of perfumes, scented herbs, pot pourri of
dried petals and fragrant woods were sniffed, daubed, crushed, strewn, sprinkled and burned
in a vein attempt to exclude the plague from the air and so to keep it away from the body.
(Stoddart, 1990,p1)
During that period it was believed that bad odour causes diseases. The word malaria
itself stood for bad air (mal- aria). And the only precaution doctors have was pleasant odour.
They urged people to burn pines in every corner of the city. Some threw sulfur to it and filled
the atmosphere with yellow fumes.
It was after the germ theory, which suggested that it is not the air but the germs in it
caused diseases, concepts of cleanliness and hygiene changed. Still, perception of natural
unpleasant odours including that of sweat is associated with filthiness and insanity. And
because of this, perfumed bodies are easily associated with cleanliness.

21

By then perfumes became an inevitable part of socialisation. They helped people to fitin to groups. They also made them standout in functions. Pleasant odours were associated
with personality and attractiveness.
Perfumes soon started creating identities. Consumerism and growing competition in
this field gave people a number of choices to replace their stinking body odour perfumes
became ones identity.
When some class is said to have foul odour, they come to believe it, says Classen,
Howes and Synnott, quoting a study conducted by J. Dollard on Caste and Class a Southern
Town of New York. Many blacks, repelled by their olfactory image, turned to perfumes and
deodorants. Their use of these products, of course, could do little to dispel a prejudice, which
was fundamentally cultural in nature and not physical. Any perfumes used by blacks would
simply tend to emphasize their status as smelly, just as the perfumes used by the working
classes in England were said to be an indication of their coarse tastes. (Classen, Howes
and Synnott, 2004, p 168,)
Every one wanted to associate themselves with a pleasant odour, rather than with their
natural stench of sweat. They were also attempting to say that, they do not belong to a
working class who does not have power. In contemporary urban life, the strong man is not the
sweaty labourer, but a clean de-odorized businessperson or professional. We are supposed
to work hard, yet smell like we are not working at all. In order to maintain the facade that one
has high status and is living the good life, one must eliminate the traces of perspiration odour
associated with physical labor. (MacPhee, 1992, p92 )
Advertisers worked on this strategy of power also. They attributed meanings of social
status with their brand. Thus, every one wanted to smell a brand rather than a nameless
sweetness. Branded scents were thought to be more powerful in creating images.
Most widely used adverting appeal in marketing perfumes is sex and sensuality.
Advertisers attribute power to attract opposite sex on artificial pleasant odours.
As an ode to these notions, some consider artificial pleasant smell as a sign of
diplomacy, tactics and plastic nature. They find natural odours as pure, genuine and lively.
This group believes that perfuming do not enhance communication, instead this silence an
otherwise powerful channel of communication by killing original odours.
Modernity has waged a total war against smells, wrote the sociologist Zygmunt
Bauman; Western culture . . . is founded on a vast deodorization project, declared Alain

22

Corbin. (Jenner,2011, p338 ). These sociologists suggest that modernity has lost its
sensitivity to scents and tolerance towards stenches.
Classen argues that olfactory classifications stem from differentiating structures of
class, race, and gender: "Odours are symbolically employed by many cultures to serve as
identifying marks of different classes of beings. [...] As a rule, the dominant group in a society
ascribes to itself a pleasant or neutral smell within this system of olfactory classification".
(Classen, 1993, p101-102)
Notions of artificial pleasant smell varied with use of perfumes. The historiography of
personal hygiene amplifies this tale of deodorization. During antiquity Westerners practiced
dry forms hygiene in which the body was cleansed and sweat removed by rubbing the skin
with aromatic oils and perfumes. Studies of Europe and North America have shown that from
the late eighteenth century, and particularly from the mid-nineteenth, this practice changed to
novel regimes of regular bathing. During the same period, the middle and upper classes
increasingly distanced themselves from the stink of the unwashed lower orders. Over the
course of the twentieth century, this drives to bathe, shower, and deodorize continued and
spread through society. Soaps, deodorants, and other hygiene products were at the forefront
of mass consumer culture, promoted by energetic education and advertising campaigns that
stigmatised and sought to eradicate bodily odours. By the 1960s, anthropologists could argue
that the extensive use of deodorants and the suppression of odour in public places had
made America a land of olfactory blandness.

An olfactory revolution, it seems, had

occurred; modern society had become deodorized (Jenner,2011, p339). This made perfumes
commodities invested with pride, attractiveness, power and anything suit with advertisers
logic.
On the other hand, in India, the practices of personnel hygiene from antiquity itself were
related to water, one of the five elements. Perfumes were never attributed with hygienic
notions but used by rich and powerful as a cosmetic. Lower castes were associated with foul
odours, not because of their perfumery practices, but because of their occupations. In other
words, stinky jobs were assigned to lower castes. In that sense, Indian culture related
pleasant odours to Caste system and thus to Pride and Power. In post colonial India, this
notion strengthened because of western influence. And those influenced by western culture,
were praised among common people as for them Whites, or Westerners denoted power.
Knowingly or unknowingly, people build their social world through such associations.
They actively construct meanings through communication. Social significance of smell is also
portrayed through the act of communication. Hence, it will be significant to analyse notions of

23

artificial pleasant odours in present Indian societies and thus this study is proposed. Our
perceptions on smell may be influenced by western lines of thought because of the extensive
exposure to their culture and lifestyle though media. Use of deodorants could be the result of
one such influence. It will be relevant to analyse the extent of this influence of deodorants in
our communication.
Meanings attributed to pleasant odours can influence and shape the preconceptions
related to Place or People. The study attempts to analyse the nature of meanings attributed
to artificial pleasant odours by people and its role in formulation of preconceptions in
interpersonal communication.
Objectives
The general objective of the study is to analyse the perception of artificial pleasant odours
and its influence among people.
Specific objectives are:

To analyse the nature of meanings attributed to artificial pleasant odours

To analyse whether the presence of artificial pleasant odours influences preconceptions


in inter-personal communication

To verify whether there is any variation in the perception of artificial pleasant odours
based on age and gender.

24

References
1. Aspria,M., 2008: Cosmologies, Structuralism, and the Sociology of Smell, ScentedPages.com
2. Classen,C., 1993: Worlds of Sense: Exploring the Senses in History and Across Cultures,
London: Routledge
3. Classen,C.and Hows,D, 2013 : Doing sensory Anthropology, www.sensorystudies.org
4. Classen,C., Hows,D Synnott,A., 2003: Aroma- the cultural History of Smell, Taylor & Francis
e-Library
5. Damhuis,C., 2006: There is more than meets the nose: multidimensionality of odor
preferences, A Sense of Smell Institute White Paper
6. Darwin,C., 1871: The Descent of Man, e-book published by www.andrew.cmu.edu
7. Doty,R.L. 1981: Olfactory communication in humans, Chemical Senses Volume 6 Number 4,
p351-376
8. Eraly, A., 2004: Eraly Araham, Gem in the lotus, seeding of Indian civilisation, India: Penguin
Books, 2004.
9. Flynn,A., 2011: Under the Iron Snout: A First Take on Olfactory Imperialism, www.thestate.ae
10. Freud,S., 1912: Selected Papers on Hysteria and Other Psychoneuroses, Translated by A. A.
Brill, New York: The Journal Of Nervous and Mental Disease Publishing Company, New
York: Bartleby.Com, 2010
11. Harris,R.G., 2007: Social Emanations: Toward Sociology of Human Olfaction, PhD Thesis,
University of North Texas
12. Jenner,M.S., 2011: Follow Your Nose? Smell, Smelling, and Their Histories, American
Historical Review , April 2011, p335-351
13. Krishnamurthy,R., 1987: Perfumery in ancient India, Indian Journal of History of Science
14. MacPhee,M., 1992: Deodorized culture: anthropology of smell in America, Arizona
Anthropologist 8:89-102, University of Arizona
15. McLuhan,M., 1975: Understanding Media, Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, London
16. Moeran, B., 2005: Japanese Fragrance Descriptives and Gender Constructions: Preliminary
Steps towards Anthropology of Olfaction, SENSES Vol. 18, No. 1 , pp. 97-123
17. Orwell,G., 1937: The Road to Wigan Pier, Autobiography of George Orwell, e-book styled by
Limpid soft

25

18. Schmidt, H.J. & Beauchamp, G.K.,1988: Adult-like Odor Preferences and Aversions in threeyear-old Children, Child Development, 59: 1136-1143
19. Stoddart,M., 1990: The Scented Ape: The Biology and Culture of Human Odour, Cambridge
University Press
20. Urbick,W., 1985: India 100 years ago,

26

2
Review of Literature

It was by the end of 20 th centaury


sociology

of

olfaction

gained

researchers

attention as a significant area to be explored.


Studies in olfaction developed or are developing
in multiple directions. The first and foremost area
is the science of the sense of smell. Followed by
the biologists psychologists started discussing
the ability of smell to evoke certain emotions.
Finally, there is sociology of olfaction that
describes the smell relations and notions in the
society. The sociological and psychological
studies on smell treat olfaction as a significant
channel

of

communication.

These

studies

analysed the potential of the channel and its


influence on individuals and the society.

27

Studies on communication through smell


It has been a major area of olfactory studies. In fact, it started in the 70s itself. The
primary question of that time was whether smell can be an effective communication channel for
man as in the case of other animals. Several behavioral studies have sought to establish whether
auxiliary odors can provide information to humans regarding gender identity and whether males
and females differentially prefer such odors.
Russell in 1976 conducted an experiment among 13 women and 16 men. They were
asked to wear T-shirts for 24 hours without bathing or using deodorants. The armpit regions of
these shirts were then presented to subjects in a triangle odour test where the subject's own Tshirt, a strange male's T-shirt, and a strange female's T-shirt were used as stimuli. Each
participant was asked to first identify his or her own odor, and then to report which of the two
remaining odors came from a male. Nine of the 13 females and 13 of the 16 males performed
both of these tasks correctly, suggesting to Russell that "at least the rudimentary communications
of sexual discrimination and individual identification can be made on the basis of olfactory cues."
(Russell: 1976)
Sexual discrimination based on olfactory cues was further researched to analyse its
psychological aspects. In a set of experimental studies, conducted by Doty R.L. in 1978, the
relation between intensity of odour and sexual identification was analysed. In the first of these
studies, a set of auxiliary odors from nine males (collected on gauze pads that had been taped in
the armpits for approximately 18 h) and a blank control pad were presented to 10 male and 10
female judges in sniff bottles. They were asked to identify the sex from which each of the odour
come from. Following this task, the subjects gave magnitude estimates of the relative intensity
and pleasantness of the stimuli. In the second study, a set of nine female odors and a blank
control were presented under identical conditions. In the third study a set of five male odors, four
female odors, and a blank control were similarly presented. The results of these studies
confirmed out that the stronger (and more unpleasant) the auxiliary odor, the more likely it was to
be assigned to a male gender category, regardless of the true sex of its donor. These results
suggest that the ability of humans to "detect" gender from auxiliary odors may depend upon
quantitative, rather than qualitative, aspects of the odors, and that strong odors are judged as
having come from males and weak odors as having come from females, regardless of the true
sex of the odour donor. (Doty:1978)
In a review of studies related to the ability of Homo sapiens to communicate basic
nonspecific biologic information via body odors, R.L. Doty suggests that humans, like many other
Mammals, have the potential for communicating basic biologic information via the smell medium.

28

In addition to evaluating reports that humans can detect individuality, gender, and reproductive
state from olfactory cues, studies claiming that odors are involved in producing menstrual
synchrony and other phenomena are also critically examined in this review. Anatomically, humans
possess a variety of secretary and excretory systems which potentially provide a rich substrate
for olfactory communication, although odors from only a few of these sources have received
experimental attention. Behaviorally, humans can establish gender, at least probabilistically, from
breath, auxiliary and hand odors, although the degree to which such determinations depend upon
quantitative factors is not known. Human infants appear to be able to detect odors from their
mother's breast, and exhibit a preference for odors from their own mother to those from a strange
mother. Similar in general respects to results from some animal studies, fluctuations in the
intensity and pleasantness of vaginal odors have been noted during the menstrual cycle, as have
fluctuations in perceptual sensitivity to several types of odorants. (Doty:1981)
These initial studies attempted to analyse the nature human sense to smell and
compared it with other mammals and they were to a great extend biological studies in nature,
even though they adopted sociological research methodologies.

Further studies in this area

focused on variations in perception with age, gender and qualities of the olfactory signal.
Smell identification ability was measured in 1955 persons ranging in age
from 5 to 99 years based on a rapidly administered microencapsulated test of olfactory function.
On the average, women outperformed men at all ages, and nonsmokers outperformed smokers.
Peak performance occurred in the third through fifth decades and declined markedly after the
seventh. More than half of those 65 to 80 years old evidenced major olfactory impairment. After
80 years more than three quarters evidenced major impairment. Given these findings it is not
surprising that many elderly persons complain that food lacks flavor and that the elderly account
for a disproportionate number of accidental gas poisoning cases each year.( Doty:1984)
The process of odour perception is considered as a classic information-processing task in
the study conducted by Pamela Dalton in 1996. Perception is assumed to be guided by both
data-driven (sensory) process and concept-driven (non-sensory) processes. Data-driven or
'bottom-up' processing relies almost exclusively on the 'data' or the information presented in the
stimulus to guide perception. In contrast, concept-driven or 'top-down' processing relies heavily
on information in memory, expectations and even the perceiver's affective or emotional state to
guide perception. The study explored the role of 'top-down' processing on perceived odour
intensity. The primary goal of the research was to determine whether a purely cognitive factor,
such as information concerning the perceived health risk from exposure to an ambient odor, could
influence the perceived odour intensity. In this experimental analysis, sixty individuals were
selected and divided in to two groups and are provided with nine odors. One group was asked to

29

rank these odours from most healthy to least healthy and they were told that the purpose of the
study is to gather information on odors that could be added to products to reinforce the perception
of healthiness. The second group was asked to rank the same set of odours from most to least
hazardous in order to gather information on odours could be added to dangerous chemicals to
reinforce the perception of hazard. The results showed that the pre- exposure characteristic of the
odorant could alter the evaluation of odours.
In another experiment, researchers asked subjects to rate the intensity a particular
ambient odour in order to analyse whether there is any change in perception based on the
information about the odorant that subjects received prior to exposure. 45 subjects were
randomly assigned to one of three groups, each of which received different characterizing
information or bias about the nature and consequence of exposure to the odorant. The positive
group was told they would be exposed to a natural extract from balsam trees that was often used
in aromatherapy and had been reported to have positive effects on mood and health. In contrast,
the negative group was told they would be exposed to an industrial solvent which, following longterm exposures, had been reported to cause problems with health and cognitive functioning. The
neutral group (control) was told they would be exposed to a standard odorant that had been
approved for olfactory research. The most important observation from this experiment was that
the cognitive bias condition influenced judgments of threshold intensity but did not affect
threshold sensitivity.
Both the studies present convincing evidence that the perceived intensity of odours can
be influenced by factors that promote a cognitive or 'top-down' processing of odour information.
(Dalton:1996)
In a study to examine the influences of age, gender, cognitive abilities, and personality
styles on odour identification, a group of researchers of America mailed questionnaires comprised
six scratch-and-sniff microencapsulated odorants to 606 participants and they were asked to
scratch and sniff each odour panel and to answer a number of questions. The study indicated that
both detection and identification of olfactory information were impaired with age. Gender had no
effect on detection or identification. Hierarchical regressions revealed that proficiency in semantic
memory, intensity perception, and personality style (i.e., neuroticism, impulsivity, and lack of
assertiveness) were potent predictors for successful odour identification, even when individual
variations in chronological age, sex, education, and global cognitive functioning were taken into
account. . However, in contrast to odour identification, odour detection was unrelated to cognitive
parameters and personality traits. Four potent factors for successful odour identification were
identified: age, semantic memory aptitude, intensity perception, and personality style. The fact
that proficiency in odour identification was unrelated to fluid intelligence, short-term memory, and

30

episodic memory strengthens the notion that semantic memory (i.e., crystallized intelligence) and
odour identification tap the same cognitive domain. (Larsson : 2000)
In 2000, Pamela Dalton analysed the Psychological and behavioural characteristics of
olfactory adaptation. Sensory adaptation allows organism to reach behavioral equilibrium with the
ambient environment and respond primarily to changes in stimulation. Given its functional
significance, it is not surprising that adaptation in the olfactory system exhibits many of the same
characteristics as adaptation in other sensory systems, including vision. Repeated or prolonged
exposure to an odorant typically lead to stimulus- specific decreases in olfactory sensitivity to that
odorant, but sensitivity recovered over in the absence of further exposure. Psychophysical
analysis showed that olfactory adaptation results in elevation in odour thresholds and in reduced
responsiveness to supra-threshold stimulation. Further, the magnitude of the decrease and the
time course of adaptation and recovery are depended on the concentration of the odour and on
the duration of exposure. It is generally agreed that olfactory adaptation can occur at multiple
levels in the olfactory system and can involve both peripheral (receptor level) and more central
(post-receptor) components (Dalton: 2000)
In 2001, a group of scientists of the University Of Utrecht and the Institue Europeen Des
Sciences du Gout conducted a study on Implicit Learning and Implicit Memory for Odour
Identification and Retention of Time. In this study, 152 subjects divided into eight groups were
exposed to a room with low concentration of ether orange or lavender and to an odorless room.
Neither the subjects nor the experimenters were made aware of the presence of odour in the
experimental conditions. Later they were asked to indicate how well each of 21 odour stimuli
including the experimental and control odours, befitted each of 21 visual contexts, including the
exposure rooms. At the end of this session, they rated the pleasantness and the familiarity of the
odours and identified them by name. The results confirm the earlier finding that non-identifiers
implicitly link odour and exposure room, whereas identifiers do not show such a link. It is
suggested that episodic information is an essential constituent of olfactory memory and that its
function is comparable to that of form and structure in visual and auditory memory systems. No
significant gender differences in the familiarity ratings were found. As in the case of pleasantness,
exposure had no significance in the familiarity of the odours. (Degel: 2001)

Studies on Olfactory likes and dislikes


In 1990, Dr. Michael Stoddart combined biology and sociology of smell for the first time in
his book, The Scented Ape: The Biology and Culture of Human Odour. He suggested the
essentiality of being interdisciplinary to understand the social phenomenon called smell. He

31

believed that zoology has something to offer to ethnography, just as the study of mans cultures
may help to resolve some zoological puzzles (Stoddart: 1990).
Nevertheless, these streams, biology and sociology, kept their exclusivity for a long time
at least in the case of olfaction and still keeping it to a large extend. The initial sociological studies
related to olfaction were focused on the olfactory likes and dislikes, and variations in it with
culture and age and gender.

Such studies made the first move to frame certain common

theories on the evolution of olfactory likes and dislikes.


In 1992, Marybeth MacPhee conducted a historical analysis of deodorized culture in
America. In her review, she discussed the social history of smell in America. Quoting a number of
literatures, studies and advertisements of 19 th centaury, MacPhee describes the evolution of
olfactory preferences among Americans. Cultural perceptions of smell are assessed according to
Maiy Douglas's models. They are also related to American views of disease and social structure.
According to him, Prior to the association between odour and disease, stink was the norm and
fashion even promoted the enhancement of body odour with perfume and oils based in
excrement and animal secretions (musk, civet, ambergris) as a means to increase attractiveness.
By the end of 18 th century, aromatherapy became popular in France as a medical prescription and
the pleasant odours were associated with good health. These ideas were carried over to the 19 th
century also. The study concludes with a note on the popular American notion that by nature we
are offensive to each other. (MacPhee: 1992)
The study conducted by Saho Ayabe-Kanamura el al in 1998 analysed the perception of
odour and previous experience with them. In this study, the responses of 40 Japanese and 44
age-matched German women to everyday odorants were compared. Subjects were presented
with 18 stimuli in squeeze bottles and asked to rate them according to intensity, familiarity,
pleasantness and edibility, to describe associations elicited by them and, if possible, to name
them. One-third of the odorants were presumed to be familiar to the Japanese only, one-third to
the Germans and one-third to both populations. Significant differences were found between the
two populations on all measures. Better performance by the Japanese in providing appropriate
descriptors for 'Japanese' odorants and by the Germans for 'European' odorants supported the
pre-selection of stimuli as culture-typical. Particularly clear differences between the two
populations were found in pleasantness ratings. In general, a positive relationship was found
between pleasantness and Judgement of stimuli as edible, suggesting that culture-specific
experiencesparticularly of foodsmay significantly influence odour perception. Somewhat
unexpectedly, significant differences were also found between the two populations in intensity
ratings for some odorants. These differences did not seem simply to be artifacts of the test

32

situation and raise the possibility that experience may even influence such basic aspects of odour
perception as stimulus intensity. (Ayabe-Kanamura : 1998)
The study by Han-Seok Seo el al in 2011, aimed to determine whether there are regional
influences on attitudes toward olfaction. 1082 participants aged 2150 years from 4 different
regions (Mexican, Korean, Czech, and German) were asked to rate general attitudes toward
olfaction in everyday life. To examine affective attitudes to odors (i.e., pleasantness), participants
were also asked to list 3 odors as being the most pleasant or unpleasant, respectively. Next, the
mentioned odour names were attributed to 1 of 4 main categories: Food & Drink, Social
relationship, Nature, and Civilization and the distribution of these categories was compared
across regions. Mexicans were significantly different to the other regions in their general attitudes
toward olfaction. In addition, in all regions, in comparison with men, women indicated a higher
interest in the sense of smell. Moreover, a significant positive correlation was present between
individuals self-rating of olfactory sensitivity and general attitudes toward olfaction. Finally, there
were significant cross-regional differences in affective attitudes toward specific categories of
odors. These results demonstrated that peoples attitudes toward olfaction can be affected by
region. (Seo: 2011)
These studies along with so many similar historical and ethnographic analyses suggested
that odour preferences are purely culture driven. But another set of studies carried out in parallel
to these studies focused on the genetic coding or inherent odour preferences.
Studies of young children have failed many times to demonstrate adult-like odour
preferences in children less than 5 years old. This made the theory of inherent odour preferences
difficult to prove. Hilary J. Schmidt and Gary K. Beauchamp experimentally proved for the first
time that children could have Adult-like odour preferences. This study gave scientific backbone to
the Evolutionary perspective of odour preferences, which is based on the predispositions in
human psychology as to whether like or dislike a smell. A simple Experiment, embedded in a
game was used to contrast 3-year-olds' and adults. Subjects were asked to smell 19 odorants,
and if they liked the odour, they had to point to one puppet, but if they did not like the odour, they
had to point to another one. Analyses revealed essentially the same pattern of preferences in
both groups. In general, the odorant was a much better predictor of its hedonic quality than was
the age of the subject. However, children and adults did differ in their ratings of some odors, and
response patterns indicated that children might be more sensitive than adults to some odorants.
This study demanded a re-evaluation in the predominant view that hedonic re-actions to odors do
not exist until between 5 and 7 years of age. (Schmidt and Beauchamp: 1998)
Some studies clearly described the co-existence of these two theories. The study
conducted by C. Chrea et al in 2003 to evaluated the effect of culture on the relationship between

33

psychological dimensions underlying odour perception and odour categorization was one such
analysis. In a first experiment, French, Vietnamese and American participants rated several
perceptual dimensions of everyday odorants, and sorted these odorants on the basis of their
similarity. Results showed that the three groups of participants differed in their perceptual
judgments but agreed in categorizing the odors into four consensual groups (floral, sweet, bad,
and nature). Three dimensionspleasantness, edibility, cosmetic acceptabilitydiscriminated
these groups in the same way in the three countries. In a second experiment, the participants
sorted only fruit and flower odors to evaluate whether a consensus emerges at a finer level.
Results showed that American, French and Vietnamese participants differed in their judgments
for several perceptual dimensions. However, they shared some common general odour
representation structured in a few categories, and used the same perceptual dimensions to
categorize the odors, such as pleasantness, edibility and cosmetic acceptability. These findings
seem to support the claim that some universal cognitive mechanisms might underlie the
perception of the world. But, At a finer level, the consensus between cultures on odour
representation stayed consistent only for two of the three groups of participants: the American
and French participants representations. This result maybe due to differences in the function
attributed to the odors. Indeed, American and French participants described clearly fruit odorants
as candies and flower odorants as cosmetics or cleaning products, whereas Vietnamese
participants did not use such descriptions. This may come from the fact that, as post-industrial
cultures, French and American people are exposed to similar standardized odors from
international trades, while Vietnamese people encounter more local aroma, which correspond to
their own culture (Chrea: 2003).
Jan Havlek and S. Craig Roberts, in their study conducted in 2012, further discuss the
interaction between culturally and biologically evolved olfactory preferences. They say,
biologically evolved preferences work in conjunction with the culturally evolve preferences. Such
considerations have led to the idea that individuals might select perfumes, which in fact
complement their own body odour. In their experimental study, they found that even if the same
perfume interacts with individual body odours, then it would have positive effects in some
individuals and negative effects in others. In another study, they found that an individuals body
odour would be judged more positively when blended with the wearers preferred perfume
compared with one assigned by the experimenters. Thus, they concluded that people might
choose perfumes in an individual fashion to complement their own body odour and it is more than
just masking. (Havlek and Roberts: 2012)

34

Social Meanings of smell


Some sociological studied extended themselves beyond olfactory likes and dislikes,
treating smell as a social phenomenon. These studies analyses the notions of smell and their
variations with culture, gender, age and time.
In a random survey conducted among 989 English-speaking individuals selected in Water
Tower Place shopping mall in Chicago, Alan R. Hirsch analysed the relations of olfactory evoked
recalls with age and gender. Survey results revealed the existence of olfactory evoked recall.
Eighty-six and eight tenths percent of those born after 1930 displayed olfactory-evoked recall,
whereas only 61.3% of those born before 1930 displayed it. these results were not surprising
since olfactory ability decreases with age. 50% of those over 65 and 75% of those over 80 years
of age exhibited a reduced ability to smell. Those born from the 1930s on were more likely to
have nostalgia induced by food odors and less likely to have nostalgia induced by nature odors
than those born before the 1930s. There was a significant difference in olfactory likes based on
age. Those born before the 1930s cited smells of nature including pine, hay, horses, sea air and
meadows, whereas those born in 1930 to 1979 were reminded of their childhood by such smells
as plastic, scented markers, airplane fuel, vaporub, sweet tarts, and play dough. . No statistically
significant difference was shown between the genders in their self-reports of odor-evoked
nostalgia. (Hirsch:1992)
In the study, Towards an Aesthetics of Smell or the Foul and the Fragrant in
Contemporary Literature, Danuta F Jellestad examines the olfactory landscapes in Toni
Morrison's Sula (1973), Jamaica Kincaid's The Autobiography of My Mother (1996), and Jeanette
Winterson's Written on the Body (1992), to show how these novels offer highly intriguing
configurations of smell, gender, and ethnicity. The analysis reveals that the three novels engage
in re-coding of the conventional olfactory landscapes. The three writers reconstruct notions of foul
smells, constructed throughout the Enlightenment project to deodorize and standardize the public
and the private spheres as the sense of unreason, madness, savagery, and animality, as the
sense of love and relationship, while fragrant scents are associated with falsehood and death.
According to the researcher, Morrison, Kincaid, and Winterson capitalize on the conventional
gendering of smell as a female (not to say feminine) sense and expose the conventionality of
representing women in terms of "nice" smells both by explicit references to the scents' sexual
powers and by making "unpleasant" odors carry the same power of sexual attraction as scents.
Finally, study proposed that smell might offer a distinct epistemological alternative to sight and
hearing. (Jellestad:2001)

35

In 2007, Regina Gray Harris analysed whether the meaning and social relevance of
odors and the olfactory sensorium changed throughout different periods of history and the way in
which those in the lineage of eminent sociological thinkers addressed the phenomenon of human
olfaction during these periods. Regarding theoretical aim of this discourse, insights are drawn
from Maurice Merleau-Pontys phenomenological theory of human perception for the generation
of a framework for the sociological study of olfaction. Methodology adopted was a Historical
monograph, undertaken with an analytical approach from the social sciences. The researcher
used data gleaned from books, advertisements, articles in popular non-scientific magazines, as
well as from the findings of studies published in medical/neurological, psychological,
anthropological, and sociological scholarly journals to reach the conclusions along with texts
regarding historical accounts of health and medicine, mythology, poetry, and literature. This study
analysed information about Western ideas regarding the olfactory sense from the days of Plato
and Aristotle, through the range of Christian philosophers, to Hegel and Marx, and beyond is
presented in an attempt to determine whether the meaning and relevance of odors and the
human olfactory sensorium have changed throughout different periods in history. The study
expounds how perfumes have gone from profane, to holy, to an industry worth billions. And how
does the dominant paradigms and scientific innovations affected these changing notions. (Harris:
2007)
In a latest study conducted by Mark S R Jenner analyses how the significance of certain
odours changed over a period. The analysis gives emphasis to the odours in environment rather
and their representation in historical records. The analysis suggests that cultural significance of
olfaction has declined in modern times. Jenner also explains the reasons for this supposed
diminution of the olfactory- Detachment from natural surroundings, evolution of vision as the
primary channel of communication and sense biases in different cultures. According to Jenner,
scholars should not assume that changes in the scientific models of sensory perception were or
are necessarily translated into equivalent transformations in subjective understandings of
sensation or perception. Constructing or examining taxonomies of the senses does not reveal
very much about how sensory perception worked in particular historical settings, the study says.
(Jenner:2011)
Studies on deodorants and perfumes
In an experimental study by S.Craig Roberts et al suggested that human body odour is
important in modulating self-perception and interactions between individuals. And deodorants
play a role in this moulding. The experiment tested the effects of a double-blind manipulation of
personal odour on self-confidence and behaviour. Researchers gave male participants either an

36

aerosol spray containing a formulation of fragrance and antimicrobial agents or an otherwise


identical spray that lacked these active ingredients. Over several days, they found effects
between treatment groups on psychometric self-confidence and self-perceived attractiveness.
Furthermore, although there was no difference between groups in mean attractiveness ratings of
mens photographs by a female panel, the same women judged men using the active spray as
more attractive in video-clips, suggesting a behavioural difference between the groups.
Attractiveness of an individual males non-verbal behaviour, independent of structural facial
features, was predicted by the mens self-reported proclivity towards the provided deodorant.
(Roberts: 2009)
A survey study examining the relative importance of various social and physical traits in
heterosexual attraction was conducted in 2002 by Rachel S. Herza, Michael Inzlicht. Data from
198 male and female heterosexual college students revealed that women considered a mans
smell to be more important than looks, voice, or how his skin feels when selecting a lover.
The influence of smell also outranked all social factors, except pleasantness, and was valued
considerably more highly than money or ambition (resource potential). Moreover, in contrast to
response to fragrance use, liking someones natural body odour was the most influential olfactory
variable for sexual interest for both men and women. Men rated a womans good looks as most
desirable and as more important than any other factor except pleasantness. When a potential
lover was at least average in all physical characteristics, women believed that better-than
average smell was more important than superiority in other physical traits, whereas men thought
they would prefer a woman to be above average in looks. This suggests that for women, a mans
smell, more than merely establishing a baseline of acceptability, is preferred over other physical
features.
The research also elucidated how the hedonics of body odour and the use of personal
fragrance are evaluated by men and women. The data from Topic 3 showed that women had a
more intense response to odour cues overall than did men. This is not surprising given that
women evaluated odour as more important in their mate choice responses than men did. This
study illuminated the relative importance of smell in comparison to other physical factors in mate
selection. (Herza and Inzlicht: 2002)
Another study conducted by Jan Havlicek et al in 2008 replicated these results in
contexts that are note related to mate selection. They also analysed the cross-cultural differences
with respected to the previous study. A stratified sample survey was conducted among 717 high
school students of Czech Republic and compared the results with previous results from US. They
found that women valued olfactory cues significantly more than men in non-sexual contexts did.

37

The Czech high school students rated body odors more positively, and were less visually
oriented, than the US university students of previous work.( Havlicek: 2008)
A survey conducted among 120 students of Sinhgad TechnicalnEducation Society,
Lonavala analysed the buying preferences and attitudes of adolescents towards perfumes. The
sample selected for the study comprised males and females of 20 to 25 years old. The
methodology employed for the study was intense interview based on open coding technique.
Feelings and Frequency of using the perfumes, Readiness to switch the brands and frequency of
switching the brands, Intensity of Interest in perfumes and Money spent on it over the last one
year were subjected to analysis based on gender. The study revealed that adolescents are
largely interested in perfumes and they think it could create a good Image. It was found that
males and females in the targeted age group have similar buying pattern. Price and brand are
two major factors influencing the buyers preferences. But, they are not Brand loyalty and possess
a general tendency to switch brands frequently. (Borgave and Chaudhari: 2010)

38

References
1.

Ayabe-Kanamura,S., el al, 1998: Differences in Perception of Everyday Odors: a JapaneseGerman Cross-cultural Study, Saho Ayabe-Kanamura, Ina Schicker, Matthias Laska,
Robyn Hudson, Hans Distel,Tatsu Kobayakawa and Sachiko Saito, Tatsu Kobayakawa
and Sachiko Saito, Chem. Senses 23: 31-38, 1998

2.

Borgave,S. and Chaudhari J.S., 2010: Adolescents Preferences and attitudes towards
Perfumes in India, Journal of Policy and Organisational Management, Vol. 1, Issue 2,
2010, PP-01-08

3.

Chrea,c.,et al, 2003: Culture and odour categorization: agreement between cultures
depends upon the odors, C. Chrea, D. Valentin, C. Sulmont-Ross, H. LyMai, D. Hoang
Nguyen ,H. Abdi, Food Quality and Preference (2004)

4.

Chu,S. and Downes,J.J., 2000: Odour Evoked Autobiographical Memories: Psychological


Investigations of Proustian Phenomena,

Department of Psychology, University of

Liverpool , Chem. Senses 25: p111-116


5.

Dalton,P., 1996: OdourPerception and Beliefs about Risk, Monell Chemical Senses Center,
Philadelphia, March 1996

6.

Dalton,P., 2000: Psychological and behavioural characteristics of olfactory adaptation


Monell Chemical Senses Centre, Philaldelphia, Chem senses 25, 2000, p487-492

7.

Degel, J., et al, 2001: Implicit Learning and Implicit Memory for Odour Identification and
Retention of Time, Joachim Degel, Dag Piper and Egon Peter Koster, University Of
Utrecht, and Institue Europeen Des Sciences du Gout, Chem. Senses 26: 267-280, 2001

8.

Doty, R.L., 1978:

Gender and Reproductive State Correlates of Taste Perception in

Humans in Sex and Behavior: Status and Prospectus edited by McGill, T., Dewsbury.D.A.
and Sachs,B. Plenum Press,New York, p. 337-362, cited in Olfactory Communication in
Humans by Richard L. Doty
9.

Doty, R.L. 1981: Olfactory communication in humans, Chemical Senses Volume 6 Number
4, p355

10.

Harris, R.G., 2007: Social Emanations: Toward Sociology of Human Olfaction, M.A., O.T.R,
University Of North Texas

11.

Havlek,J. and Roberts,S.C., 2012: The perfume-body odour complex: An insightful model
for culture-gene co-evolution

39

12.

Herza,R.S. and Inzlicht,M., 2002: Sex differences in response to physical and social factors
involved in human mate selection: The importance of smell for women, Evolution and
Human Behavior 23 (2002) 359364

13.

Hirsch,A.R.,1992: Nostalgia: a Neuro-psychiatric Understanding, Smell & Taste Treatment


and Research Foundation, LTD, Advances in Consumer Research Volume 19, p 390-395

14.

Jellestad,D.F., 2001: Towards Aesthetics of Smell or The Foul And The Fragrant In
Contemporary Literature, Blekinge Institute of Technology, Sweden

15.

Jenner,M.S., 2011: Follow Your Nose- Smell, Smelling, and Their Histories, American
Historical Review, April

16.

Larsson,M., et al, 2000: Odour Identification: Influences of Age, Gender, Cognition, and
Personality, Maria Larsson, Deborah Finkel, and Nancy L. Pedersen, Journal of
Gerontology: PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCES by the Gerontological Society of America,
2000, Vol. 55B, No. 5, P304P310

17.
18.

MacPhee,M., 1992: Deodorized Culture Anthropology of Smell in America


Roberts,S.C., et al, 2009:

Manipulation of body odour alters mens self-confidence

and judgments of their visual attractiveness by women, S. Craig Roberts, A. C. Little, A.


Lyndon, J. Roberts, J. Havlicek and R. L. Wright, International Journal of Cosmetic
Science, p4754
19.

Russell,M.J.,1976:'Human olfactory communication', Nature, 260, 520-522., cited in


Olfactory communication in humans, R.L. Doty

20.

Schmidt,H.J. and Beauchamp, G.K., 1998: Adult-Like Odour Preferences and Aversions in
Three-Year-Old Children, Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia

21.

Seo,H.S., el al, 2011: Attitudes toward Olfaction: A Cross-regional Study, Han-Seok Seo,
Marco Guarneros, Robyn Hudson, Hans Distel, Byung-Chan Min, Jin-Kyu Kang, Ilona
Croy, Jan Vodicka and Thomas Hummel, Chem. Senses 36: 177187

22.

Stoddart,M.,I990: The Scented Ape: The Biology and Culture of Human Odour, Cambridge
University Press

40

3
Methodology

Most research is Positivist in nature. However,


the Positivist stream of research has its
limitations especially when the objective of the
research is to understand meanings that people
hold. People through their participation in the
social world actively construct these meanings
of the world. These meanings and or truths
influence,

if

not

directly

impact,

human

behaviour and interaction. The method adopted


for the study is Intense Interview. This could be
seen as a more relevant and useful way of
understanding and or conceptualizing social,
cultural, group and or individual meanings.

41

Intense interview
Traditional structured questionnaire survey establishes a priori categories and then asks
pre-established questions aimed at capturing precise data that can be codified, categorized and
generalized. Here the researcher is like a highly trained instrument and remains substantively
situation and the respondent.(Fondana, 2003,p54)
The interview has been reconceptualised survey as an occasion for purposefully
animated participants to construct versions of reality interactionally rather than merely purvey
data. Because the respondents subjectivity and related experience are continually being
assembled and modified, the truth value of the interview responses cannot be judged simply in
terms of whether those responses match what lies in an ostensibly objective vessel of answers.
Rather the value of interview data lies both in their meanings and how meanings are constructed.
These what and how matters go hand in hand, as two components of practical meaning making.
The entire process is fueled by the reality constituting contributions of all participants, and
interviewers. (Gubrium and Holstein, 2003,p34)
Personal interviews are the most flexible means of obtaining information because the
face-to-face situation lends itself easy to questioning in greater depth and detail. But, compared
to the traditional perspective of surveying, this approach seems to invite unacceptable forms of
bias (78). The direction of intense interview id determined by the interviewer and will be shaped
by his or her frames of reality. Since interviewing is always staged and less spontaneous,
resulting conversations are less realistic than a natural interaction (Gubrium and Holstein,
2003,p78).
Sampling Technique
Purposive sampling is the sampling technique adopted to select respondents. 60 subjects
were selected ensuring equal participation of male and female respondents. The sampling also
ensured equal representation of people belonging to different age groups.
Sample Description Table:
Male

Female

Below 30

10

30-46

10

46 and above

10

Below 30

10

30-46

10

46 and above

10

42

Interview Schedule
The Intense Interview relies on an Interview Schedule. It is not an unstructured interview,
the research agenda is always kept in focus, and the Interview Schedule is prepared accordingly.
The function of the Interview Schedule is to:
1.

Ensure that the researcher covers the same terrain in roughly the same order with all
respondents

2.

To ensure that prompts are carefully scheduled

3.

Allow the researcher to pay attention to what the person is saying

4.

Channels the scope and direction of the discourse

Data Analysis and Interpretation


For any research, data is what researcher observes and think relevant to answering the
research question. Data collection is the process of selectively choosing empirical phenomena
and attributing relevance to them with respect to our research question. Therefore, data is nothing
but interpreted observations. Our findings always depend upon this data, which is always
selected.
The multiple subjects that could possibly stand behind interview participants add several
layers of complications to the interview process as well as to the analysis of interview data. To
analysis and build meanings out of these data an ethnographic method, open coding is adopted.
Data analysis is about classification and coding.
Categorization is putting a number of things into a smaller number of groups. A category
is an idea (word or phrase) that stands for a set of objects or events with similar characteristics.
Classification is the rule or rules by which such allocation is made. Knowledge and meaning are
understood and communicated through categories.
Data analysis involves organizing data by categorizing, and looking for relationships and
patterns amongst categories. This is carried out by Coding. The study adopts open coding where
the researcher starts developing Categories from the data, as units that hold meaning.
Categories in open coding are never exhaustive.
Interpretation involves attaching meaning and significance to the analysis, explaining
categories, patterns and relationships. It is not separate from Analysis.

43

Operational Definitions
Artificial pleasant odours: Odours that are created and marketed by man to mask natural
unpleasant odours.
Meaning: to what someone associates a signal
Social Meaning: to what someone associates a signal in a social context
Affective Meaning: personal feeling or attitude towards a signal
Perception: the way in which someone identifies things
Interpersonal communication: direct exchange of meanings between two people
Preconception: an image created in a persons mind regarding place or people who are
unfamiliar to him or her.
Category: an idea (word or phrase) that stands for a set of objects or events with similar
characteristics
Confidence: degree of power one assumes to himself or herself
Freshness: experience of bring untainted
Attraction: the quality of arousing sexual interest
Temporality: the condition of being not permanent
Artificiality: quality of being not natural but made, produced, or done to seem like something
natural
Filthiness: a state characterized by foul, unclean or disgusting dirt and refuse
Irritating: things that upset someones state of mental or physical stability
Acceptance: state of getting a favourable reception or approval from the society
Social status: position in a social hierarchy
Identity: Identity is the definition of a person in a society
Character: The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual
Faking: act of projecting qualities that are not genuine
Luxury: act of spending money or superfluous things
Impurity: state of being mixed with foreign matter; adulterated

44

References
1.

Fondana,A., 2003: Postmodern trends in Interviewing, Postmodern Interviewing Ed.


Gubrium,J.F., Holstein, J.A.,Sage publications, p51-65

2.

Gubrium,J.F., Holstein, J.A., 2003: Postmodern Interviewing Ed. Gubrium,J.F., Holstein,


J.A.,Sage publications, p21-49

45

4
Analysis and Findings

People are meaning endowing; they interpret


and construct their social world, rather than just
respond to external stimuli in a simplistic
manner.

The

long

interview

attempted

to

appreciate these meanings. But, meanings are


not present in the social world to be retrieved; it
has

to

be

Respondents

constructed
participated

from
in

interactions.
the

intense

interviews gave a general feeling that they are


not bothered about the presence of artificial
pleasant odours in their initial responses. But,
while talking on the absence of artificial pleasant
odours, they revealed their notions about
artificial

pleasant

odours.

They

associated

artificial pleasant odours with diverged senses


and significations. Transcriptions of interviews,
when coded for analysis offered two distinct
categories of meanings, Affective meanings and
Social meanings.

46

Affective meanings
Affective meanings refer to the individuals feelings or attitude towards artificial pleasant
odours. The affective meanings found in the study are:
1.

Confidence: Confidence is the degree of power one assumes to himself or herself. It is a


kind of power to mingle with the society. When someone gets confidence, he will be
empowered to intervene. 23.33% of the sample associated artificial pleasant smells with
confidence. It denotes a feel of empowerment an artificial pleasant odour provides to
mingle with others who seems more powerful in social hierarchies.

2.

Freshness: Freshness is an experience of being untainted. This denotes a cognitive


experience of not getting involved with busy things, even when we physically do.
Freshness is a state where people are at their maximum potential. 21.67% associated
artificial pleasant smells with freshness pointing towards a general tendency to feel at
leisure even under stress.

3.

Attraction: Attraction is the quality of arousing sexual interest. Olfactory industrialists


ascribe perfumes and deodorants with this quality. It is the most projected meaning of
artificial pleasant odours by the advertisers through mass media. Still only 16.67% feels
that, artificial pleasant smells can attract opposite sex. This result says that meanings of
artificial pleasant odours are not those imposed through mass media, rather it is those
constructed through social interactions.

4.

Temporality: Temporality denotes a condition of not being permanent. 15% of the sample
identified artificial pleasant odours temporary. They denoted that every other positive
affective meanings attributed to it are temporary in nature. Moreover, they identified
natural body odour as a permanent reality, which cannot be suppressed or altered for a
long time. These people do not ascribe artificial pleasant odours with high power in social
interactions.

5.

Artificiality: Artificiality denotes a property of being not natural but made, produced, or
done to seem like something natural. 11.67% associated artificial pleasant odour with
artificial manipulation of natural body odour. They used words like chemical and synthetic
to denote artificial pleasant odours. These people were bothered about the negative
influence of artificial pleasant odours in health. They preferred natural body odour over
the intense stenches of artificial chemicals. This association stands for a feeble
resistance among people to the alteration of originality.

47

6.

Filthiness: Filthiness is a state characterized by foul, unclean or disgusting dirt and


refuse. 10% of the sample associated artificial pleasant odours with filthiness. They
shared the feeling that those who stay unclean use artificial pleasant smell to manipulate
their body odour. This meaning associates artificial pleasant odour with disapproval in
social interactions. Roots of this viewpoint can be traced back to ancient Indian
association of neatness with bathing. A small percentage of culturally rooted people
associates artificial pleasant odours a western means to cover filthiness.

7.

Irritating: irritants are things that upset ones physical or mental stability. 5% of the
respondents opined that artificial pleasant smell would physical or mental state of health.
But, this opinion has no relation with their habit of using artificial pleasant odours. Even
those who have an aversion towards artificial pleasant odours use them to satisfy some
social needs.

Affective Meanings

Confidence
Freshness
Filthiness
Temporary
Attraction
Irritation
Artificial

23.33
21.67
10
15
16.67
5
11.67

Table 1: Affective meanings of artificial pleasant odour

48

Fig1: Affective meanings of artificial pleasant odour


While evaluating affective meanings associated with artificial pleasant odours, it is
evident that people tend to perceive artificial pleasant odours positively in general. Majority
identifies artificial pleasant smell as a confidence booster, which facilitate their interaction with
society. Secondly, it is associated with freshness. Freshness is a state where people are at their
maximum potential. Only a small percentage believes that it can cause sexual attraction.
The negative affective meanings are primarily because of its characteristics like
temporality and artificiality. Some associates perfumes with filthiness as they think people without
personal hygiene depends upon artificial pleasant odour to hide their malodour.
Social meanings
Social meanings refer to those associations of artificial pleasant odours that gains
significance only in a social context and social relations.
1.

Acceptance: Social acceptance is a state of getting favourable reception or approval


from the society. Social acceptance is a basic need of every human being. 35% of the
total sample associated artificial pleasant odours with social acceptance. When someone
associates artificial pleasant odours with social acceptance, it indirectly denotes his or
her inferiority complex to appear as such facing the society. Social acceptance can be a
term used by less empowered, in terms of money profession and gender status. They

49

feel they have to cover their foul smells to make themselves appealing for others. Others,
who constitute the social surroundings of a being, are more powerful for him or her.
Artificial pleasant odours, they believe, will improve their role in social associations by
hiding their natural body odour.
2.

Social status: Social status denotes ones position in a social hierarchy. It is the power to
influence and persuade people. 23.33% of the total respondents associated artificial

pleasant odours with social status. These people opine that the quality of a deodorant or
perfume can be sensed through smell. The term quality denotes money spend on
artificial pleasant odour and ones taste. Often, people who use mild, lasting fragrances
are believed to be from good educational, professional and economic background. When
an artificial pleasant odour is vested with money or professional status, it can play a
significant role in persuasive communication. A large share of respondents believe that
artificial pleasant odours to communicate ones power and thus influence others.
3.

Identity: Identity is the definition of a person in the society. It stands for some
characteristics used to identify a person in a society. 18.33% of total respondents opined
that artificial pleasant odours could contribute to those features that define ones identity.
They associated artificial pleasant odours with brand loyalty. Human beings generally
cannot identify some one other than spouses with natural body odour. But respondents
opined that they can identify some people in their social environment with their artificial
odour. This suggests that perfumes are well integrated to our lifestyle, so that we can
consider it as an identity feature at least for a small percentage.

4.

Character: Character is mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual. Ones


character exists only in the consciousness of people to whom he interacts. ones
character registers in others mind through his or her social interactions. 8.33% of the
total respondents believe that artificial pleasant odours can impress others by evoking a
feel of good character. This may be a reflection of a self-perceived sense of pleasure and
confidence developed with artificial pleasant odours.

5.

Faking: Faking is the act of projecting qualities that are not genuine. It is a kind of
manipulation to get acceptance and power. 15% of the sample associated artificial
pleasant odours with fake identities. They feel people use perfume to mask their defects
and to project a false identity.

6.

Luxury: Luxury denotes an act of spending money or superfluous things. 13.33%


identifies artificial pleasant odours as a part of luxurious life style. They opined that
manipulation of natural body odour is not essential to get social acceptance.

50

7.

Impurity: Impurity is a state of being mixed with foreign matter. 1.67% associated
artificial pleasant odours with impurity. Association of artificial pleasant odours with a
state of impurity can be linked to the adulteration of traditional ways of life with western
culture. Artificial pleasant odours are foreign products adopted by Indians and this
contaminated our ethnicity according to this small percentage.

Social Meanings
%
Status
23.33
Acceptance
35
Impurity
1.67
Faking
15
Luxury
13.33
Character
8.33
Identity
18.33
Table 2: Social meanings of artificial pleasant odours
Social meanings of artificial pleasant odours reflect a social anxiety. 35% percentage of
the respondents believes that artificial pleasant odours can cover their defects and make them
acceptable for the society. This impart that people generally are bothered about their natural body
odour and firmly believe that ones natural body odours are repulsive for others.
Another large share feels the use of artificial pleasant smell will speak for their social
status. A small portion think perfumes create social identities and some believe it will impress
people. All these associations stand for a power relation in communication. People generally feel
they are inferior with their natural odours and to impress, influence and to be acceptable for
others they trust upon artificial pleasant odours.
Artificial pleasant odours are negatively associated with luxury, faking and impurity. These
associations are

51

Fig 2: Social meanings of artificial pleasant odours


Variations in Affective Meanings based on age
45% of Respondents below 30 associated artificial pleasant odours with confidence.
People belonging to this age group are at their initial stages of social interaction and are
conscious about their perception by others. Out of respondents above 30 and below 46, 10%
associated artificial pleasant odours with confidence. 15% of respondents above 45 also gave a
similar association. People belonging to this age group are at their initial stages of social
interaction and are conscious about their perception by others. In addition, they rarely have the
benefit of economic and professional supremacy. In Indian contexts, youngsters are less powerful
in terms of money and status thus they are more anxious about their image in society. Youngsters
associated artificial pleasant odours with confidence more than aged did. They use and perceive
perfumes as a confidence booster, which would hide their natural foul odour and thereby improve
self-perceived degree of power.
People above 45, did not associated artificial pleasant odours with freshness. 20% of
young and 45% of middle-aged respondents associated artificial pleasant odours with freshness.
Freshness is a state of mind to feel at leisure. This emotional association also points to a state of
youthfulness, with its absence in the frames of people above 45. Since youngsters are fresh by
their age, they are not much bothered about this quality. On the other hand, middle-aged people,

52

who constitute the performing category associates artificial pleasant odours with freshness
mostly. Middle age is state where people start loosing their natural freshness. Thus, they relay on
artificial pleasant odour to improve their self-perceived status of freshness. At the same time,
people above 45 recognise this effect of freshness as a temporary one and might be thus never
associated artificial pleasant odours with freshness.
Variations in association of artificial pleasant odours with temporality can be interpreted
as a fact in support to the foresaid observation. Aged people associate artificial pleasant odours
with temporality more than youngsters and middle aged. When 10% of youngsters and 15% of
middle aged associated artificial pleasant odours with temporality, 20% old respondents shares a
similar constructive meaning. As their experience with life increases, people tend to associate
artificial pleasant odour with a quality that transform with time.
Irrespective of age, people tend to associate artificial pleasant odours with sexual
attraction. This may be an influence of advertisements. 15% young, 20% middle aged and 15%
old respondents associated artificial pleasant odours with sexual attraction. Quite notably, only a
small percentage feels that artificial pleasant smell can cause sexual attraction. This shows
majority are either not bothered about this aspect of pleasant odours or do not find such artificial
odours effective in sexual attraction. Since there is no variation in this association with age, it can
be considered as an influence of advertisements, not an actively constructed social meaning.
Youngsters and middle aged do not associate artificial pleasant odours with artificiality,
while old and middle-aged people do. 10% of respondents between 30 and 45 and 25% of
respondents above 45 associated artificial pleasant odours with a tendency to appear natural
while not being natural. People born in a pre-globalised era, are more likely to value and
appreciate natural body odours.

Even though they attribute some positive social values to

artificial pleasant odours, they also associate it with artificiality. This denotes a change in social
concepts aroused from the difference in exposure to western culture. Youngsters do not think
artificial pleasant odours with artificiality; instead, they appreciate it as an essentiality, which is
quite natural.
20% of respondents above 45 associate artificial pleasant odour with filthiness along
with 10% youngsters. Youngsters associated artificial pleasant odours with a state of not bathing
citing their personal experiences, while people above 45 expressed a concern about this attitude
of youngsters. They associated the state of filthiness with deodorization or perfuming more
negatively. At the same time, youngsters were never hesitant to share their habit of not bathing or
washing cloths. This denotes a declining divinity of bathing in Indian social context, which could
be seen as a western influence.

53

15% of people between 35 and 45, consider artificial pleasant odours irritating. No other
categories expressed a similar concern. It can be treated as a personality trait.

Affective
meaning
Confidence
Freshness
Filthiness
Temporary
Attraction
Irritation
Artificial

Below 30
45%
20%
10%
10%
15%

30-45
10%
45%
0
15%
20%
15%
10%

46
and
above
15%
0
20%
20%
15%
25%

Table 3: Variations in Affective Meanings based on age


Generally, it is evident that, when youngsters are more mindful about the positive
aspects of artificial pleasant odours, aged group tend to speak on the negative aspects of the
same. Associations of aged group are more balanced than that of youngsters. Middle- aged
people found to be exhibiting and intermediate profile, which is inconsistent and highly influenced
by their profession and social contexts.

Fig 3: Variations in Affective Meanings based on age

54

Variations in Social meanings based on Age


Irrespective of age, people tend to associate artificial pleasant odours with social
acceptance and social status. This denotes role of artificial pleasant smell in power relations of
social communication. This survey results shows that people belonging to all age categories feels
the need to be accepted and to influence. They use and perceive deodorants as a signal of social
status and social acceptance. 20% of young, 25% of middle aged and 25% of old respondents
associated artificial pleasant odours with social status. 40% of young, 40% of middle-aged and
45% of old respondents associated it with social acceptance.
30% of youngsters related artificial pleasant odours with identity. With age, this
association tends to decline. Only 15% of middle-aged and 10% of old respondents was able to
identify artificial pleasant odour as a social identity. It can be because of the declining sensitivity
to smell which has been proved in previous studies or may be because of the changing attitudes
towards smell. Youngsters born and live in a globalised, crowded and fast-paced society integrate
artificial pleasant odours to their lifestyle and regard it as a social identity. For older generations it
is a means to achieve some values in a society and they do not think it can be an identity. Still,
they share a feeling that, attar, a perfume used by Muslims holds some identification value.
Only 5% of aged respondents feel that perfumes can create good character impression
among people. But 15% youngsters think presence of artificial pleasant odour will create a good
impression. They feel that perfumed people will be treated as nice persons. Only people who use
artificial pleasant odours in intensities appealing get this kind of acclamation. This association can
be a social reflection of a general feeling that people who consider others likes and dislikes use
perfumes for others comfort.
20% of old respondents in two categories associate deodorants with fake identities. For
youngsters it is only 5%. Youngsters identify artificial pleasant odours as a means to satisfy social
needs, while people above 30 shows a tendency to recognize it as a means of altering existing
identities. This observation is in accordance with the general tendency of youth to associate
artificial pleasant odours as essential commodities, use of which is quite natural. Since

people

below 30 are exposed to the globalised tendencies from their childhood itself, they are not
concerned with clash of cultures. On the other hand, for people above 30, there is a clash of
concepts aroused from exposure to western culture. Thus, they are much bothered about the
identity projected with perfumes and deodorants, which for 20% is a fake one. For youngsters,
Identities projected through perfumes are not different from that of ones original identity.
20% old respondents and 15% of middle-aged respondents associated artificial pleasant
odours with luxury. Only 5% of young respondents associated perfumes with luxury. This

55

observation underlines the foresaid observations on attitudinal difference between age groups.
When younger generation identifies artificial pleasant odours as a social need, older people
consider it as a luxury.

Social
Meaning
Status
Acceptance
Impurity
Faking
Luxury
Character
Identity

Below
30
20%
40%
5%
5%
5%
15%
30%

30-46
25%
40%

46
and
above
25%
45%

20%
20%
5%
15%

20%
15%
5%
10%

Table4: Variations in soical manings based on age


Aged people share an opinion that perfumes are not essential but youngsters find it
essential for social interaction and relation building. Older generation also associate artificial
pleasant odours with faking, covering up of actual characteristics, but only small percentages of
youngsters share this opinion. As in the case of affective meanings, here too, aged people tend to
attribute negative connotations to artificial pleasant odours. On the other hand, youngsters
associate it with social relations and interactions. Irrespective of age, people view artificial
pleasant odours as agents of power in social interactions.

Fig4: Variations in social manings based on age

56

Moreover, for youngsters, artificial pleasant odours are expected and they are not
bothered about their influence on ones identity. In other words, they consider perfumes as ones
identity feature. For them, there is not an identity, which is pure and original. They accommodated
perfumes as apart of their identity. On the other hand, aged people view artificial pleasant odours
as a foreign stuff that alters ones existing original identities. This adds on to the negative
associations of artificial pleasant odours by them.

Variations in Affective meanings based on Gender


While analyzing the results we could find that females attribute artificial pleasant smell
with more positive values. 30% of total female respondents associated artificial pleasant smell
with confidence and 26.67% associated it with freshness. Females are found to be more sensitive
to smell in previous studies. Since they are more sensitive to natural body odour, they must be
more bothered about it. The present finding can be associated with this female characteristic.
Artificial pleasant smell they think will give confidence to them by hiding their natural foul smell
from others and from themselves. This will in turn give a fresh feeling. Only 16.67% male
respondents associated artificial pleasant smell with confidence and freshness.
Only female participants rated artificial pleasant smell as irritating. 10% of female
respondents associated artificial pleasant odours with physical irritation. But, they use artificial
pleasant odours without running the risk of being perceived as malodorous.
Male respondents largely associated artificial pleasant odours with filthiness compared to
females. 16.67% male participants associated artificial pleasant odours with filthiness, while only
3.33% of female respondents made similar association. They shared a common association that
those who stink use artificial pleasant odours.
Male respondents associated artificial pleasant odours with sexual attraction more
significantly. When 20% male participants associated artificial pleasant odours with sexual
attraction, only 13% female respondents related in the same way. This may be because of the
prevailing social structure that assigns male respondents with more power to speak explicitly on
sexual attraction.
23.33% Male participants rated artificial pleasant odours as temporary, only 6.67% of
female respondents shared this opinion. Similarly, male respondents associated artificial pleasant
odours with artificiality more significantly.
The analysis shows that female participants attribute artificial pleasant odours with
positive meanings, while male participants associated it with negative meanings.

57

Affective
Meanings
Confidence
Freshness
Filthiness
Temporary
Attraction
Irritation
Artificial

Male
16.67%
16.67%
16.67%
23.33%
20%
16.67%

Female
30%
26.67%
3.33%
6.67%
13.33%
10%
6.67%

Table 5: Variations in Affective meanings based on Gender

Fig 5:Variations in Affective meanings based on Gender

58

Variations in Social meanings based on Gender


66.67% female respondents associated artificial pleasant smell with social acceptance,
while only 20% of male participants made association in the same way. This reveals a general
psychology of women who tends to be appealing to the society, which is powerful than her. While
men could be sweaty and unpleasant without loosing any of their masculine identity, women feel
they would be treated as objects of disgust. This may be because of the natural foulness
attributed to women reeking of unpleasant body fluids, such as menstrual blood. Being socially
less empowered she associate artificial pleasant odours with social acceptance. On the other
hand, being more powerful, men are less bothered about social acceptance.
Only female participants believed that ones perfume or deodorant would reflect his or her
character. 16.67% associates artificial pleasant odours with character.
Both male and female participants associated artificial pleasant odour with identity. 20%
female respondents and 6.67% male respondents think that they can identify people with their
smell. The slight domination of female respondents can be attributed to their increased sensitivity
to smell.
Men and women equally associate artificial pleasant odours with social status. Both feel
such artificial odours will help to influence less powerful people in their social surroundings, by
reflecting their social status in terms of money and power. 23.33% of total respondents
associated artificial pleasant smell with social status.
23.33% male respondents associated artificial pleasant odours with fake identities, while
only 6.67% of female respondents made similar association. When 20% of male respondents
associated artificial pleasant odours with luxury, only 6.67% of female participants associated it
with luxury.

Social
Meaning
Status
Acceptance
Impurity
Faking
Luxury
Character
Identity

Male
23.33%
20%
3.33%
23.33%
20%
16.67%

Female
23.33%
66.67%
0
6.67%
6.67%
16.67%
20%

Table 6: Variations in Social meanings based on Gender

59

Fig 6: Variations in Social meanings based on Gender

Preconceptions in interpersonal communication


Status: 43.33% think people with good body odour belong to high social status. This
preconception indicates a distinct power gap existing between two people participating in the
communication because of the presence of artificial pleasant odour. This power variation cannot
be exclusively attributed to the presence of artificial pleasant odour. It is enhanced with physical
appearance, colour, body language and many other factors.
Neatness: 13.33% of total respondents say there will be preconceptions related to neatness of a
person based on the presence of artificial pleasant odours. This group associates natural body
odour with untidiness. This association denotes a shift in Indian line of thoughts influenced by
westernization.
Attention seeking: 13.33% associate the presence of artificial pleasant smell from a person with
his desire to get attention. These people perceive people who use artificial pleasant odours as
insubstantial.
Good Character: 3.33% associates presence of artificial pleasant smell as a sign of good
character.

60

No preconception: 26.67% of total respondents claimed that they do not make preconceptions
based on the smell of their partner in interpersonal communication contexts.
Respondents generally feel that presence of a good artificial pleasant smell can create a
good communication atmosphere and there will be positive preconceptions regarding a pleasant
smelling person. A relatively small percentage assumes that presence of artificial pleasant will not
create any preconceptions about a person. Some respondents think artificial pleasant odours
would create negative impression about a person, assuming that those people strive to get
attention in a crowd.

Nature
preconception

of %

No Preconception

26.67

High Status

43.33

Neat

13.33

Attention Seeking

13.33

Good Character

3.33

Table 7: Nature of Preconceptions

Fig 7: Nature of Preconceptions

61

Summary of Findings:
1.

Meanings of artificial pleasant odours can be classified in to two. Affective meanings


stand for individuals emotions and attitudes. It is a sense. Social meanings are
significations in social contexts.

2.

People largely associated artificial pleasant odours with Confidence and Social
Acceptance. Confidence is an affective meaning, while Acceptance is a social
meaning. Both can be associated with power to interact in a society.

3.

Another major affective meaning was with freshness. Freshness is a state of leisure
where human potential is at its maximum. This denotes a general perspective that
assumes high status to executive jobs. People want to smell good, as if they are not
working.

4.

Youngsters are more likely to associate artificial pleasant odours with positive
meanings like freshness and confidence. On the other hand, aged people tend to
associate perfumes with temporality, filthiness, and artificiality.

5.

Young people below 30 associates artificial pleasant odours as an identity feature


while people above 30 views it as a foreign object that alters existing original
characteristics of a person.

6.

Women associate artificial pleasant odours with social acceptance and confidence
more than men do. They are much bothered about the risk of being perceived as
malodorous. This may be because of the fact that women are women are suspected
of being naturally foul, reeking of unpleasant body fluids, such as menstrual blood.

7.

People generally construct positive preconceptions related to ones social status,


neatness and character based on the presence of artificial pleasant odours.

8.

Association of artificial pleasant smell with neatness denotes influence of western


culture in Indian tradition that accepted and acclaimed natural body odours.

62

5
Conclusions

The study was an attempt to analyse the


meanings of artificial pleasant odours, its
variation with age and gender and its role in the
formulation of preconceptions. Out of the
meanings

generated

from

long

interview

transcriptions, it was found that people tend to


associate

artificial

pleasant

odours

with

confidence, freshness, social acceptance and


social

status

above

all.

These

prominent

meanings share some common space in the


sphere

of

significance.

Confidence

and

freshness are individual perceptions associated


with artificial pleasant odours, while social
acceptance and social status stands for a social
significance

of

artificial

pleasant

odour.

Confidence denotes an individuals ability to


strive for social acceptance, a social power.
Association of these aspects with artificial
pleasant odours refers to its decisive meaning
power in social interactions.

63

Freshness is another prominent affective meaning of artificial pleasant odours, which can
be related to the second prominent social meaning, status. Freshness denotes a state of leisure,
which in turn stands for a state of not doing sweaty jobs. This affective meaning can be
associated with social status, which denotes power to influence.
When l acceptance and confidence represent empowerment, freshness and social status
stand for influential power.
To underline this key identification of artificial pleasant odours with power, another fact
emerges out of interrelated categories. Women and young respondents, who are socially less
powerful in economic and structural terms of Indian cultural society, largely associated artificial
pleasant odours with confidence and acceptance. Those who are less powerful identified artificial
pleasant odours vested with positive values.
Western influence in peoples attitudes, especially among youngsters was also evident
throughout the analysis. Westerners are attributed with high power and thus their ways of life are
influential for our society. When someone follows western ways of life or attitude, he is likely to
get power in the society. This general attitude is reflected in habits of perfuming also.
In analysis of preconception also, people tended to denote artificial pleasant odours with
social status, indicating its role in manipulating the power relations in communication contexts.
Holding a strong association with power, artificial pleasant odours plays a key role in shaping the
direction of flow of information, its perception and effect.
Scope and Limitations
The study was an exploratory attempt to analyse the meanings of artificial pleasant
odours in contemporary Indian society. Olfactory communication is one of the most undermined,
at the same time a significant area of communication research. The role of olfaction in
communication is still quite unexplored. Among the available studies, those on Indian contexts
are rarest. Being a culturally diverged society with a dynamic history, olfactory studies in Indian
context will be an exciting area of communication research.
The present study adopted a phenomenological approach, which is the principal
advantage of the study. Nevertheless, it failed to define researchers frame of meanings, which
might have influenced the respondents during interview. Researchers background, notions and
concepts might also have influenced the qualitative decoding of meanings and concepts
projected by the respondents. Since the study was conducted among an undefined population, it
failed to analyse meanings contextually.

64

Suggestions for future Research

Studies on olfactory meanings have to be conduced on a phenomenological approach in


which research fames of meaning and context of population are well defined.

Ethnography is the most suitable method to analyse meanings in a population.

To get a common meaning, there must a common context among respondents, thus, the
population has to be well defined and specific.

Participatory observations will be much effective tool to analyse olfactory meanings than
long interviews or questionnaire surveys.

For quantitative studies on meanings of odours, sense bias in popular arts and literatures
can be studied.

65

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68

APPENDIX
Interview Schedule
1. Socio-demographic detatils:
a) Age
b) Gender
c) Profession
2. Do you use deodorants?
a) If yes, how do you feel the difference when you use it?
Or
b) If no, is there any reason for not using a deodorant?
3. a)
b)

What are your favourite flavours, if you like deodorants?


Or
Do you have any aversion towards artificial pleasant smells? Explain.

4. Can you recall any artificial pleasant odours that caught your attention?
5. Is there any advantage of using deodorants? Share your experience sighting examples of
peoples and places.
6. Can you recognise people with their smell?
7. Do you know people who smell good or bad? Detail out experience.
8. Do you think ones body odour can influence your communication experience with them?
9. How will you rate a person who use artificial pleasant odours?

69