Home Tech ‘Smell is really important for social communication’: How technology is ruining our senses

‘Smell is really important for social communication’: How technology is ruining our senses

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'Smell is really important for social communication': How technology is ruining our senses

“W.Wait a minute, wait a minute. You haven’t heard anything yet. So went the first line of audible dialogue in a 1927 feature film. The jazz singer. It was one of the first times the media broadcast the image and sound of a scene together, and audiences were captivated.

There have been improvements since then: black and white has become color, frame rates and resolutions have increased, and sound quality has improved, but the media we consume still caters overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, to our eyes and ears.

Now that the average person spends almost seven hours a day in front of a screen, and much of that time is spent indoors, our over-reliance on sight and hearing has only intensified. But since humans are animals with five (or possibly many more) senses, are we neglecting our other faculties and what is it doing to us?

Many psychologists classify our primary senses as rational or emotional, and there is evidence to support this. “Smell [and taste are] “They are directly connected to the emotional processing areas of the brain,” says Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, “while rational senses such as hearing and vision are processed in the cortex.” In fact, Spence says, more than half of the neocortex (more than half of the brain’s volume) is dedicated to processing what we see.

There is no denying that we are highly visual creatures and that is partly why our media is primarily audiovisual. “I think it’s mainly due to the fact that much of the information we consider important today can be conveyed by visual or auditory means,” says Meike Scheller, assistant professor in the department of psychology at Durham University. “But what we consider important doesn’t necessarily mean these are the things we need.”

If you ask people what sense they couldn’t live without, most will say sight, but the evidence suggests that what we would really miss is our sense of smell. “There is a much higher rate of suicide and suicidal ideation among people with anosmia, because it is a feeling that is strongly linked to our emotions,” says Scheller.

So, is neglecting some senses in favor of others affecting our emotional life? To the extent that our emotional health is linked to our social health, the answer is almost certainly yes. “Smell is a really important signal for social communication and this is something that is not implemented in any technology we use today,” says Scheller.

For example, it has been shown that we tend to unconsciously smell our palms after shaking someone’s hand. “That gives you clues about all kinds of things, from their health to their age and even their personality,” Spence says. “A good amount of that is lost if we interact only digitally.”

Touch is equally important to our emotional lives, and in ways that the finger-centric haptics of our digital devices cannot satisfy. C-tactile afferents, a type of nerve receptor abundant in the hairy skin of our arms (but not in our fingertips), have been shown to create positive emotions when stimulated. “These receptors like slow, warm, tactile strokes,” says Spence.

The cold, sleek touchscreen of a smartphone simply cannot replace the soft, warm, imperceptibly smelly skin of another human being. For adults, this may mean a less satisfying social life, but for a generation of children who increasingly socialize through technology, the effects could be serious.

Scheller says that children learn to interpret their senses in relation to others. We could learn to associate some subtle odor with the sound of a person screaming or seeing them smiling and use these cues to navigate social situations in the future. “Children who grow up with less involvement basically have less training in being able to categorize how certain things smell or what a certain touch might mean,” Scheller says. “If we suddenly remove something that has evolved over millions of years, that will not only be the removal of one sense, but it will affect the functioning of all the other senses.”

Marianna Obrist, professor of multisensory interfaces at University College London, says: “The way we experience everyday life is for all of our senses. “Everything is multisensory.”

For example, it’s easy to think that the experience of eating is primarily about taste, but the shape and color, smell and sizzle, temperature, texture, and weight of our foods appeal to our vision, smell, hearing and touch. “All of those senses have already started acting before you even eat,” says Obrist. And then there’s the mouthfeel: the physical sensations of spiciness or acidity and, of course, the flavor.

Eliminating just one of those senses can have an impact on the entire experience. For example, when people eat ice cream in the dark, they feel less likely to enjoy it, or even be sure how it tastes. “Any time we have multisensory stimulation, we get a much better, richer representation of the environment around us,” Scheller says.

Yeso What are we doing to make our technology more multisensory? Obrist previously directed sensex, an EU-funded project that aims to help designers devise new ways to integrate touch, smell and taste into their products. The team’s efforts included spraying odors under a subject’s nose to highlight key moments from Christopher Nolan’s film. Interstellarblasting them with ultrasound waves to simulate touch and using High intensity acoustics to levitate food. on the tongue without the need for cables or tubes.

It’s hard to imagine that you’ll soon see Surrender of Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore by Robert Duvall Apocalypse nowis the most famous phrase while your laptop sprays eau de napalm in the morning into your nose, but the interfaces of smell and taste may be on the horizon. Researchers are already using AI to try to find primary odors from which any odor can be created, and Obrist is the scientific director of OWidgets, a company that produces digitally controlled scent delivery systems with applications in research, care medical and immersive reality experiences.

Almost all of the information we receive from electronic devices is visual or auditory and is therefore processed by the cortex, or the rational part of our brain. Photography: Alex Segre/Alamy

There are also companies like Dexta Robotics in China that are bringing tactility to virtual reality with a glove called dexmo.

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“Dexmo can provide haptic feedback and force feedback at the same time,” says Dexta CEO Aler Gu, “which means that when you run your fingers across a virtual brick, you can feel the texture of the surface. “When you grab and move the brick from one point to another, you can feel its physical shape.”

Media that taps into all the senses would surely enrich our daily interactions with technology, but it’s not hard to imagine more insidious uses emerging. In 1957, an American market researcher named James Vicary claimed to have stitched individual frames reading “Eat popcorn” and “Drink Coca-Cola” into a film. He reported a 57.5% and 18.1% increase in sales of popcorn and Coca-Cola respectively, and the concept of subliminal advertising was born.

Vicary was later exposed as a fraud and the effectiveness of subliminal advertising has been a topic of discussion since then, but would technology that could deliver smells and flavors digitally be a gift to unscrupulous advertisers? “Our bodies have a very strong emotional response to [these senses]. “They can be extremely powerful,” says Scheller. “It has great potential to influence our decisions because we are very emotional decision makers.”

Studies have shown that exposure to certain tastes and smells can influence our judgment of other people’s appearance and personality, and even alter our behavior. Trying bitter foods, e.g. can make us hostileand a 2005 patent application suggests that the smell of pink grapefruit will make a man perceive a woman to be younger than her actual age.

Obrist’s team has discovered that Bitter tastes can make us more willing to engage in risky behaviors.. “You might be e-banking or shopping online, and drinking your sour lemon drink, and that could indirectly influence your decisions,” he says, and it’s not hard to imagine how an e-commerce or gambling app could exploit devices that can provide flavors and odors.

To some extent, this kind of thing is already happening. Companies are known to introduce pleasant scents into their stores, and the American chain Cinnabon deliberately places ovens near store entrancessometimes baking trays just of sugar and cinnamon, to attract passing shoppers.

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What if we take it even further? Of the nearly 63 million people who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, the vast majority had only experienced him through two of their senses. What if the media used our devices to emit a subtle aroma of sour milk while broadcasting a speech by one political candidate and freshly baked cookies for another?

After all, a 1940 study showed that people were significantly more or less likely to identify with political slogans such as “Down with war and fascism!”, “Workers of the world, unite!” and “America for Americans!” depending on whether they were subjected to a putrid odor or given a free lunch.

If the news allowed us and our leaders to taste the air pollution in Delhi, feel the wildfires in California, or smell the smoke and sewage in Gaza, would appealing to our most emotional senses compel us to act or sink the line? head deeper into the sand? It’s hard to imagine an audience willing to engage in such a sensory assault, but our senses evolved to help us navigate and respond to the world we live in, and from that point of view, using just two of them may not be ideal. “The more information we have,” says Scheller, “the more able we are to act on our environment.”

For the moment, instead of waiting for digital technologies that can stimulate our neglected senses, Scheller suggests that we would do well to go out and see our friends in person, feel the breeze on our skin and smell the roses. After all, as far as our devices are concerned, we haven’t smelled anything yet.

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