Some athletes who perform badly, a proportion of people who fail exams, and a few of those prone to accidents may all be victims of the essence of failure. A footballer who misses an open goal when the smell of hot pasties is wafting across the field, for example, may miss again when confronted with the identical smell and another open net.
Scientists at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia succeeded in establishing the existence of a sense of failure by putting volunteers inside a maze to see if they were able to navigate their way out. While they were trying to solve the problem, they were unaware that they were being exposed to a subtle flower scent. What they also did not know was that it was an impossible maze and that they were bound to fail.
Some time later, the volunteers took another, but this time solvable test; some were exposed to the same scent, and others to another smell or no odour at all.
Dr Ruth Herz, who led the research, said: "We found that the flower odour produced a conditioned response. Those who were exposed to the same odour as for the maze task performed significantly worse. The feeling of failure induced by the smell led them to perform below their natural ability in the second and solvable test.
"What is especially important is that not only does the smell re-evoke the old feelings of failure but it actually influenced performance on something not related to the original experience. Our results suggest that scents that have acquired specific emotional responses can alter behaviour and performance.''
For some people, their personal smell of failure will work at a conscious level, and for others, at a subconscious level.
Dr Herz and her team are now working on the smell of success. The idea is that if the smell of failure can trigger people into becoming losers, then a scent associated with success could turn losers into winners.
"If you had odour that was associated with success and achievement it could be used at a later date to motivate people. In the same way, scents associated with security might help alleviate anxiety,'' she said.Reuse content