Smelling How to Feel: The Role of Ambient Odor and Olfaction in Affective Experience and Evaluation

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Clinical Psychology


Department of Psychology


Advisor: Julie Walsh-Messinger


The current study sought to investigate the relationship between odor exposure, affective states, and affective evaluation of congruent stimuli. Olfaction, or the sense of smell, has long been considered closely connected to affective and emotional processes and this relationship has been investigated across a wide range of experimental contexts (e.g. Herz, Beland, & Hellerstein, 2004; Knasko, 1995; Epple & Herz, 1999). However, one area that has not yet been addressed is ambient odor's ability to influence how we affectively evaluate visual stimuli experienced concurrently with the odor. In the current study, odor was hypothesized to affect both affective state and affective evaluations towards visual stimuli presented with the odor, based on the pleasantness or unpleasantness of the odor itself. Pleasant odor was hypothesized to increase positive affect and ratings of image pleasantness relative to before odor exposure. Unpleasant odor was hypothesized to increase negative affect and image unpleasantness ratings relative to before odor exposure. These effects were also hypothesized to be moderated by sex, with females showing a stronger effect of odor for affect and image ratings than males. Additionally, self-reported affective impact of odor was hypothesized to moderate the effect of odor on image ratings, with participants who report high levels of affective impact of odor showing a greater effect of odor on image ratings than participants who report low levels of affective impact of odor. Finally, the relationship between odor and image ratings was hypothesized to be mediated by affective state. Participants were randomly assigned to be presented with a pleasant odor, an unpleasant odor, or no odor during the study. During the first portion of the study, participants completed state affect ratings and the affective impact of odor survey, then were presented with a randomized series of images, which they rated for pleasantness and unpleasantness. They were then relocated to another room, which had been prepared with the odor condition. Following a filler task, they then completed another measure of state affect and rated another randomized series of images. Due to issues that emerged with the manipulation, the results failed to clearly support or not support the hypotheses for this study. However, several limitations related to the design and the normality of the data emerged that impacted interpretation of the results.


Psychology, Experimental Psychology, olfaction, affect, affective evaluation, international affective picture system, self-assessment manikin

Rights Statement

Copyright © 2020, author