Scientists Reveal Our Sense Of Smell Changes How We See Color

By Abdul Rafay in Science and Technology Published On 11th October 2023

Scientists have discovered that our sense of smell affects how we perceive color.

Credit: Frontiers/ Liverpool John Moores University

A group of researchers from Cambridge University, Liverpool John Moores University, and the University of Liverpool looked into how different odors affect people's perceptions of color.


Smelling hot chocolate is likely to make you think of brown, and smelling bananas will probably make you think of yellow. But can smelling those aromas really affect how you see color in real life?

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Scientists have conducted an experiment to determine the extent to which odor can affect an individual's sense of color.


24 participants, 11 men and 13 women, aged 20 to 57, were divided into groups of three and sat in front of screens in separate, darkened rooms with no lights.


Perfume and deodorant were prohibited for the participants in order to reduce the possibility of competing scents.

To be extra confident that no other smells in the room interfered with the experiment, an IQAir HealthPro 250 air purifier was used as well.

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After that, an ultrasonic infuser was utilized to gradually introduce each scent into the room, in addition to odorless water that served as a control.

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Caramel, cherry, coffee, lemon, and peppermint were among the aromas. Thankfully, they're all really nice fragrances.

The participants were given a random color and instructed to adjust it to a neutral gray for each distinct smell using two sliders: one for yellow to blue and another for green to red.

The goal of the experiment was to see if the participants' perceptions of neutral gray would be affected by the different smells.


As it happens, all of the smells but peppermint seemed to change people's perceptions of neutral gray, though sometimes not in the manner you might anticipate.

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For some reason, individuals who smelled caramel perceived neutral gray as bluer than it actually was, whereas coffee caused people to interpret it as more reddish-brown.

Overall, the scents caused the individuals to see neutral gray as "warmer colors," according to the researchers' findings.

Lead author Dr. Ryan Ward emphasized the need for further research.


He aims to determine if smell affects how colors are perceived when someone encounters a specific scent for the first time or on multiple occasions.

And there you have it: the world may appear slightly more reddish-brown than it actually is if you drink coffee in the morning.

This study shows that our sense of smell can affect how we see colors, emphasizing the connection between our senses. It also suggests that starting the day with coffee might make the world seem more reddish-brown than we think.