New research published in Frontiers in Psychology (doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1175703) has shown that unconscious associations between certain scents can affect how we perceive certain colors.
For the study, 24 adult women and men were seated in front of a screen in a room that had no other sensory items; none wore anything with a scent, and none had an impaired sense of smell or color blindness. Researchers randomly chose one of six odors (caramel, cherry, coffee, lemon, peppermint, and odorless water as a control) to be diffused into the room. After five minutes, participants were asked to adjust two sliders (yellow to blue, green to red) to achieve a neutral grey color.
Researchers found that participants had a weak but significant tendency to adjust one or both of the sliders too far away from neutral grey in a predictable way. With the odor of coffee, for example, participants perceived neutral grey as more reddish-brown; the odor of caramel made participants perceive neutral grey as being too blue. The neutral water, which lacked an odor, corresponded with true neutral grey.
Researchers noted that they believed that there might be other higher cognitive processes that influence our perception of colors and hoped that future studies might investigate how color observations change depending on how familiar the participant is with a given odor.