Using Visualization to Improve Your Sense of Smell

Gin Kit Sample Bottles CroppedAthletes spend time picturing what they’re going to do, whether it’s kicking a ball through uprights or flipping backwards off a balance beam. Now researchers have determined that the same techniques can be used to improve the sense of smell. The study, published in the Journal of Sensory Studies, worked like this:

“Novices, undergraduate enology students (intermediates) and wine experts were asked to repeatedly imagine the visual images or smells of odorant sources presented in picture form. Olfactory abilities, odor sensitivity and identification performance were compared before and after mental training to check the differential effects of the two types of sensory training. We demonstrated that, like repeated objective odorant stimulations, repeated imagination of odors was able to enhance olfactory performance in objective perception.”

There were exceptions, of course. The technique seemed to work best with people who had already been serious about analysis of aromatics — wine experts, mostly. The improvements in sensitivity faded over time, if the exercises didn’t continue. And, most interestingly, the effect was considerably less on subtle aromas. Leslie Willoughby, writing at Science, says:

“This may be due to differing degrees of difficulty for creating a mental image for different odors and may call for basic training in how to form a mental image of elusive scents. “

Now, we don’t mean to brag, but that’s what Aroma Academy training does. So we liked the study’s conclusion:

“The findings demonstrated that olfactory mental imagery was able to modify olfactory capabilities of wine professionals, with results comparable to those obtained using perceptual training. Consequently, olfactory mental imagery is an excellent tool for training the olfactory capacities of panelists, and may be extended to perfumers, flavorists and tasting panelists with a view to improving product quality control, without material stimulus such as chemical supports.”

Yup. That’s what we do.