Need to Know

Smell Ya Later

FYI: Gadget

February 2017

Emoticons are increasingly important communication tools, but a team of researchers from Zhejiang University and MIT took it a step further to see what happens when people add “odor emoticons” to conversations. With scent-dispersing machines nearby, participants chose brief wafts of smells to add to their text messages. They might add the smell of apple to a happy conversation or the smell of ammonia to a comment about being angry. The results? Odor emoticons induced more chatting, were intuitive for people to use, and helped participants better communicate and perceive emotions.


That’s no surprise to Saskia Wilson-Brown, founder of the Los Angeles–based Institute for Art and Olfaction, which often uses scent to enhance film screenings, performances, and museum installations. “The link between odor and emotion has been explained ad nauseum, but it’s worth noting that the odor-emotion link is the primary reason that practitioners in contemporary art, technology, and narrative practices are increasingly looking to scent to help enhance audience engagement,” Wilson-Brown says. “For better or for worse, working with scent has allowed us to trigger unmistakably powerful reactions on the part of our audiences.” Find more at

Photography by Shutterstock