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Your body image can be influenced by smells and sounds
Research finds that our sense of self can be manipulated by certain smells and sounds.
- Researchers find that there are smells that make us feel thinner and lighter, and other smells that do the opposite.
- The sounds of our footsteps can have a similar effect.
- The researchers suggest that sensory stimuli play a part in our self-image and may be subject to beneficial manipulation.
Who we see in the mirror is more than a matter of lighting or angle. Our self-image is a subjective interpretation of our actual physical characteristics. It's affected by our feelings and by comparisons we draw between ourselves and other people we look to as examples of what we should look like. Often, the person staring back at us in the mirror bears only a passing relationship to what we really look like, and many people struggle with body image issues.
Now it turns out that body image may also be influenced by sensory stimuli. Certain smells and sounds cause us to think of ourselves as lighter and thinner, while others make us feel thicker and heavier.
The research was conducted in 2019, a collaboration between Sussex University's Computer-Human Interaction Lab (SCHI), the University College of London Interaction Centre (UCLIC), and the Universidad Carlos III (UC3M) in Madrid.
Lead researcher Giada Brianza of SCHI presented its findings at the 179th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America last week. She hopes that the researchers' insights can lead to new and more effective multi-sensory methods for helping people overcome negative body-image issues.
Lemon, vanilla, and footsteps
The research involved two different experiments run consecutively.
In one, participants were asked to adjust the dimensions of an onscreen 3D avatar so that it best represented themselves as they were exposed to fragrances. A lemon scent caused the subjects to dial in a lighter body weight. A vanilla odor had the opposite effect.
SCHI lab head Marianna Obrist tells University of Sussex, "Previous research has shown that lemon is associated with thin silhouettes, spiky shapes and high-pitched sounds while vanilla is associated with thick silhouettes, rounded shapes and low-pitched sounds. This could help account for the different body image perceptions when exposed to a range of nasal stimuli."
Regarding the second experiment, UC3M's Ana Tajadura-Jiménez says, "Our previous research has shown how sound can be used to alter body perception. For instance, in a series of studies, we showed how changing the pitch of the footstep sounds people produce when walking can make them feel lighter and happier and also change the way their walk."
The current study's authors had headphone-wearing participants walk in place on a wooden board as the researchers manipulated the sound of of their footsteps in the headphones, making them higher in pitch or lower. While walking, they were presented with lemon and vanilla scents. The psychological effect of the fragrance became even more pronounced when combined with the sound manipulations.
"We based our study on the concept of crossmodal correspondences," Brianza tells Inverse, "which is the spontaneous and unconscious association between different sensory stimulations [like when people see colors when they listen to music]."
Says Obrist, "One of the interesting findings from the research is that sound appears to have a stronger effect on unconscious behavior whilst scent has a stronger effect on conscious behavior. Further studies need to be carried out in order to better understand the potential around sensory and multisensory stimuli on BIP [body image perception]."
What the heck is going on
Brianza says, "Our brain holds several mental models of one's own body appearance which are necessary for successful interactions with the environment." She adds, "These body perceptions are continuously updated in response to sensory inputs received from outside and inside the body."
Considering that what we know of the world—and to an extent, of ourselves—is based on sensory stimuli, perhaps it should not be completely surprising that we may draw unexpected cues from them.
In any event, the researchers' findings offer tantalizing early clues that may bear therapeutic fruit when it comes to addressing body issues later on. Will it turn out, for example, that scented garments can help us make kinder, more accurate fitting decisions in olfactorily and sonically optimized dressing rooms?
Says Brianza, "Being able to positively influence this perception through technology could lead to novel and more effective therapies for people with body perception disorders or the development of interactive clothes and wearable technology that could use scent to enhance people's self-confidence and recalibrate distorted feelings of body weight."
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How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.