'Exposure to certain smells may make you feel slimmer'

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Exposure to certain smells and sounds may make us feel slimmer or more corpulent, claims a study which found that the image we have of our own body changes depending on the stimuli we encounter.

Researchers from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) in Spain, the University of Sussex and University College London in the UK, found that olfactory or smell stimuli combined with auditory or hearing stimuli can change our perception of our body.

These results, presented at the International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction in Cyprus, provide new knowledge in the field of cognitive neuroscience and human-computer interaction, researchers said.

People feel thinner and lighter when exposed to the smell of lemon while feeling heavier and more corpulent when they smell vanilla, they said.

Through a device adapted to a pair of shoes, the researchers previously analysed how our perception of our body changes when the frequency spectrum of steps taken during physical activity was modified in real-time.

"By increasing high frequencies, people feel lighter, happier, walk in a more active way and as a result, they find it easier to exercise," said Ana Tajadura-Jimenez, a lecturer at the UC3M.

This technology, based on the audio stimulus, that was used successfully both in 2017 to treat people with chronic pain and this year to promote physical activity, is combined with olfactory stimuli in the current research to show that both senses combined have a large influence over the perception we have of our body image.

"Image distortions can cause detriments to physical and emotional well-being. The research in cognitive neuroscience has shown that peoples' perception of their bodies can be changed through visual, tactile, proprioceptive and audio stimulation," said Tajadura-Jimenez.

These results will allow new and more effective therapies to be designed, researchers said.

These could include virtual reality experiences or the development of interactive clothes or portable technology, for people suffering from body image disorders in order to improve their self-esteem and re-calibrate distorted feelings about their body weight. 

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