A new study examines how alexithymia — a psychological condition that makes it difficult for some people to express emotion — also alters a person’s reaction to different odors.From the sweet aroma of fresh-baked cookies making you feel warm inside to the subtle scent of flowers blooming in the spring perhaps leading to joyful feelings, your sense of smell has a strong bearing on your emotions.
That’s because “there is a partial overlap between the areas in our brains which deal with olfactory perception and those which process emotions,” Marilena Aiello, a cognitive neuroscience researcher at the International School for Advanced Studies in Italy and co-author of a new study from Italy looking at one of the links between scent and emotion, said in a statement.
But what happens to your sense of smell if you have trouble with emotions? [10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Brain]
In the study, Aiello and her colleagues looked at how certain scents affected people who have a psychological condition known as alexithymia, which means that they have difficultly expressing their emotions. (In Greek, alexithymia means “no words for feelings,” according to the study.) It’s estimated that 1 in 10 people have the condition.
People with alexithymia have difficulty processing and relating to different emotions, such as joy, anger or disgust. Given the well-established link between smell and emotions, the researchers wanted to see whether alexithymia affected how people responded to different scents.
To do so, the researchers divided a group of 62 individuals into three groups according to the severity of alexithymia (high, medium and low). The participants were presented with smells — ranging from unpleasant odors to neutral scents to clean air — and asked to identify them. In addition, the researchers also evaluated the participants’ threshold for detecting the different scents.