Can your brain unconsciously reveal which perfume you should buy?


The perfume industry in France is valued at €1.9 billion (Garnier, 2017). This huge market of shoppers could benefit from a simplified shopping experience where the choice of the perfect scent is made easier and obvious. We aimed to find a link between the human subconscious and pleasant scents using our Affect-Tag band and Cognitive Science expertise. With the expansion of wearables, there is a great opportunity for impersonalized marketing strategies to evolve and focus on the individual shopper. Game changers like the Affect-tag plateform know how to nurture this hyper-customized brand-consumer relationship by using instantaneous emotional data to increase buyer satisfaction in the short-term and aggregated data to create repeated positive customers experiences in the long-term.

par Lauren Varona et Olivier Janin

Olfactory stimuli detected in the environment cause signals in the Limbic system of the brain leading you to react in specific ways – this is how you know to be on alert if you smell smoke or how you sense flavor in an appetizing meal. These signals also cause minute changes all over the body, which can be detected through specialized sensors.

The Affect-tag band is one such sensor. Worn like a watch, it measures perceived changes in the environment via the microscopic production of sweat called the Electrodermal Response. Using this technology we attempted to find out if perfumes cause a strong, subconscious emotional reaction in the body, giving your own autonomous nervous system and instinctual reaction the role of personal shopper.

Most people can distinguish between each family easily and can even quickly say which family they prefer. However, choosing a fragrance within each family type can sometimes be a harrowing choice. By testing fragrances of the same family of fragrances, Neotrope aimed to help consumers by providing a scientifically-backed personalized experience to eliminate doubt with their final choice.

Two emotional indicators provided by Affect-tag are Emotional Power and Emotional Density. The former is a measure of the strength of the emotional reaction to a stimulus while the latter is a measure of sustainability. Based on previously conducted research on emotional reaction to pleasant and unpleasant odors (Grosofsky, Haupert, Versteeg, 2011; Ohira, Hirao, 2015), we expected the Affect-tag Emotional Power and Affect-tag Emotional Density in the phase immediately following the inhalation of the fragrance to be higher for preferred fragrances.

The results showed that as a group, the Affect-tag Emotional Power was a good indicator of preference when matched with declarative surveys.  Of the three feminine fragrances tested,

  • men chose « Miss Dior Eau de Toilette » as their favorite and
  • women chose « J’Adore Eau de Parfum » as their favorite.

As the graphs of aggregated Affect-tag Emotional Power below show, both the maximum and mean value for the preferred fragrances was highest.

The same was also true in regards to Affect-tag Emotional Density, but only for women. As the orange histogram above shows, the density was stronger (darker) for « J’Adore EDP » for the women (it matches their declared favorite) and for « Forever & Ever Dior » for the men (which was not their declared preference) . The value corroborates that the densities were higher in those areas, indicating where more emotional peaks were detected in the same time frame.

When analyzing the overall Affect-tag Emotional Impact, it is clear that Miss Dior EDT and J’Adore EDP were the favorites of the group, having the strongest reaction times amplitude.

The above graph shows how the emotional reaction changes over time which can give insight into how people emotionally process fragrances, whether the impact is strong and released or weak and sustained. This analysis shows that men tend to have sharp reactions to fragrances which are slow and infrequent, whereas women tend to have stronger and more sustained reactions.

This study opened a door to using neurofeedback as part of the shopping experience. Declarative responses integrate a cognitive component to decision making and can therefore influence the response (Figner, Murphy In press), whereas the Affect-tag Emotional Power, Emotional Density, and Emotional Impact are direct measures of subconscious reaction. Integrating this technology can make shopping less stressful for consumers and more profitable for businesses by giving everyone piece of mind.

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  1.  Garnier, J. (2017 November 25) Retrieved from
  2. Grosofsky, A., Haupert, M. L., & Versteeg, S. W. (2011). An Exploratory Investigation of Coffee and Lemon Scents and Odor Identification. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 112(2), 536-538. doi:10.2466/24.pms.112.2.536-538
  3. Figner, B., & Murphy, R. O. (in press). Using skin conductance in judgment and decision making research. In M. Schulte-Mecklenbeck, A. Kuehberger, & R. Ranyard (Eds.), A handbook of process tracing methods for decision research. New York, NY: Psychology Press.
  4. Ohira, H., & Hirao, N. (2015). Analysis of skin conductance response during evaluation of preferences for cosmetic products. Frontiers in Psychology,6. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00103