Olfactory cues modulate facial attractiveness - Demattè, M.L., Österbauer, R. and Spence, C. (2007)


  • To determine whether briefly presented olfactory cues (smells) can modulate visual judgments of facial attractiveness.
  • To determine whether pleasant versus unpleasant olfactory cues can enhance and/ or reduce the perceived attractiveness of a given face.
  • Participants

  • 16 untrained female participants.
  • All from the University of Oxford.
  • Mean age of 26 (range 20-34).
  • All completed an initial questionnaire to ensure they had normal smell functions (i.e. are you suffering from a cold? Do you suffer from asthma?).
  • Participants were naïve of the purpose of the experiment when they filled out the questionnaire.
  • Research Method

    The research method used in this study was a Lab experiment.


    Participants sat on a chair 70 cm from a computer screen with their chin on a chin rest. Participants stared a screen with a small cross. Instructed to exhale when they heard a quiet tone and inhale when they heard a loud tone. One of the 4 odors (or clean air) was given 500ms after the loud tone and the participants had to decide if an odor had been presented (press “z”) or not (press “m”). 1000ms after the odor, a face appeared on the screen for 500ms. When the face disappeared so did the odor and the screen returned to black. Participants were then asked to rate the facial attractiveness on a 9 point scale: 1 = least attractive, 5 = neutral, 9 = most attractive. Continue. The participants rested 5 minutes after every 40 trials.


    The crucial result to emerge from our study was that female participants consistently rated the male faces as being slightly, though significantly, less attractive when presented with an unpleasant odor than with a pleasant or neutral odor. No significant difference between pleasant and neutral odors.


  • Only 16 participants
  • All female, were they all heterosexual?
  • Rating “attractiveness”
  • Self-reports on a 1-9 scale

  • Ecological Validity

    Low ecological validity-lab test.


    Ratings were not affected by whether the odor was body relevant (body odor, male fragrance) or not (rubber, geranium). These results support previous research.


  • High levels of control.
  • Randomization of smells to faces.
  • Pilot study.

  • Ethics


    Demattè, M.L., Österbauer, R. and Spence, C. (2007)

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