Perfume For Women: Women Don't Buy Scents For Other Women, Consider Their Scent 'Vital' To Their Identity

Perfume
A study on product design was surprised to find women "sabotage" their friends when it comes to perfume. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

If your girlfriend gifted you a scent of perfume you didn’t care for, it may not have been by mistake. According to new research published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, women buy nicer-smelling scents for themselves or their boyfriends — and that’s it.

"Women treasure fragrances as a vital pillar of their personal identity," said Bryan Howell, study co-author and BYU industrial design professor, in a press release. “They may use the same fragrance for many years, and some women keep their fragrance choice a secret so their friends won't wear it." It’s essentially, Howell added, “sabotage.”

Howell and his team were analyzing the shopping habits of 146 women living in the United States and the Netherlands, namely to see how product design influenced their purchases, when they noticed this particular behavior.

"When women like a fragrance, they will purchase it for themselves or a male friend, but not for a female friend," Howell said. "When they dislike a scent, they won't purchase it for themselves or their boyfriend, but they will buy it for a female friend. It was a very strange finding so I had to go back and dig deeper."

Researchers went back and interviewed 12 women in addition to their sample in order “to add qualitative layers to the research.” These interviews helped reveal that women were happier influencing scents men wear while holding their own scent “as personally intimate.”

More often than not, when women did buy perfume for other women, they bought scents they personally didn’t like or didn’t value — assuming they were shopping for perfume at all. Some women involved with the study told researchers they worry about the negative connotations of gifting another woman perfume, as if they’re saying “they need to address a negative smell.”

"Buying perfume for another woman is like buying a swimsuit for someone else," Emily Hellewell, BYU campus news manager, said. "Swimsuits, like perfume choices, are very personal and it's not a gift you would give a friend."

It’s also important to keep in mind there are other factors influencing our sense of smell. One study developed a perfume that smells better the more a person sweats, whereas separate research shows the human sense of smell can be easily fooled. The latter study recruited 50 people to smell four distinct odors from bottles with exaggerated labels. And participants chose the scent with a more positive description, regardless of how it actually smelled.

Researchers of this study concluded: "It shows that odor perception is not objective, it is affected by the cognitive interpration that occurs when one looks at a label."

Source: Food Quality and Preference. 2015.

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