Dufte som præferenceskaber i købsomgivelserne? En eye-tracking undersøgelse af effekten af subliminale- og supraliminale duftstimuli på forbrugeradfærd og præference

Lars Frederiksen

Student thesis: Master thesis


It has been widely accepted that the use of scents can affect human behaviour and regulate mood and cognition. Olfactory stimuli are processed in the limbic area, which is closely connected to memory and emotional processing, and thus provide scent stimuli with the ability to be linked to specific experiences or events. Since the sense of smell cannot be turned off and prompts immediate emotional responses, an increasing number of managers of retail stores, restaurants, hotels etc. are implementing the use of scent to their marketing strategy in order to gain benefits from scents’ usefulness in communicating with consumers. There are, however, still many unanswered questions regarding to what extent the use of scents can actually affect consumer behaviour and preference, and furthermore which role the scent intensity plays in this process. The aim of this study was to therefore to examine the conscious and unconscious dimensions of the processes induced by the use of scent, and by this examining the use of scents as a potential weapon to influence and affect consumer preference. To explore these effects, a laboratory experiment was conducted. In particular, the study tested whether the affective content of both subliminal and supraliminal scents could alter consumer behaviour and preference. The experiment measured the responses of 60 participants to different intensities of a floral scent; ranging from 0-100% in intensity. In order to examine the emotional and physiological responses induced by the scents, the experiment was carried out on an eye-tracker, where participants were asked to sniff the presented scent and hereafter rate their preference for a number of different picture stimuli. In this process respondents’ pupil dilation and reaction time were measured. The data were examined quantitatively and revealed a general connection between scent intensity and consumer preference. Weak odours are found to affect consumer behaviour in terms of a positive effect on preference, whereas stronger odours are found to induce the opposite effect. Here, an intensity threshold between 0,0161 – 0,0434 is revealed where intensities lower than this value seem to cause higher preference ratings, whereas higher intensities cause the opposite effect. In connection to this, a scent intensity level between the abovementioned threshold (0,0161 – 0,0434) is also found to be the optimal intensity in terms of affecting consumer pleasantness. Furthermore, a positive subliminal effect on consumer behaviour and preference is found, which supports the theoretical view that unconscious emotional responses can affect human decisionmaking. The study also revealed a quite surprising difference between sexes as women are found to be affected more by the use of scents than the male respondents. This difference between sexes is found in connection with the preference ratings, where female respondents are significantly more affected in their ratings than the male respondents. The study further revealed that the use of scents affect the physiological responses from the participants. This physiological effect is found on consumers’ reaction time, where intensities higher than the abovementioned intensity threshold (0,0161 – 0,0434) seem to induce a faster decision-making process. Scents are also found to affect consumer arousal, which was examined on the basis of pupil dilation. Here, a general connection between scent intensity and changes in pupil dilation is acknowledged, revealing that stronger intensities alter greater arousal from the participants. However, a difference between sexes is also found here, concluding that scents affect physiological responses from women the most. This finding supports the behavioural effect and furthermore expands the understanding of the causal emotional mechanism, which is expected to be the theoretical basis for the effect of scents in guiding consumer behaviour.

EducationsMA in International Business Communication (Intercultural Marketing), (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2013
Number of pages110