Just the other day I was having a lovely chat with an apparently normal looking person, when I they uttered one of the strangest things that I’ve ever heard. They said ‘Oh, no, I hate the smell of lavender’. I was aghast! And then I slowly sidled away, as living on my wonderful Jersey lavender farm, I smell of the stuff all the time. But obviously, I LOVE the smell of lavender.
So why do some of us (the sane ones at least!) love the gorgeous, velvety smell of lavender, whilst other people so strongly dislike it? Is lavender the Marmite of the plant world? There are a number of different theories concerning why different people like different smells. Some say its nature, whilst others argue that it has a lot more to do with nurture.
Researchers at Duke University in North Carolina, USA, believe that differences in the way that different people react to the same smell are a result of our DNA. In essence we are hard wired to like some smells whilst loathing others. And this is due to the fact that we are actually smelling things in completely different ways. They found that there are 400 different genes responsible for controlling the scent receptors in our nose. These are made up of different amino acids and even if there is only a slight variation in these from one person to another, then their receptors will react in very different ways, thus causing us to either like or dislike exactly the same smell.
However there are also arguments that variations in people’s reactions to the same smell are in fact caused by conditioning that associates different smells with previous positive or negative experiences. Researchers from Brown University, Rhode Island, USA, conducted a study that found that if people were exposed to a new smell in a positive situation then they were more likely to reporting liking the smell at a later time. Participants were exposed to a smell made up of dirt, rain and hot buttered popcorn, that was slightly unpleasant, whilst playing a computer game. If the game was easy and they won they were more likely to respond positively to smell than if the game was difficult and frustrating.
So whether different reactions to smells is a result of nature, nurture or a little of both, it does seem that some people love the smell of lavender whilst others absolutely hate it. However if you are one of the unlucky few that wouldn’t delight in a little bottle of our lavender essential oil, don’t worry we also sell rosemary and eucalyptus!