Beauty neuroscience needs to focus on product design and fragrance usage, says Prof Charles Spence at IFSCC 2022


For most consumers around the world, it only takes seconds to choose a product in-store or online, leaving a very small window for brands to make an impression and capture consumer interest. And when purchasing or interacting with a product – whether in the beauty, personal care, food, beverage or other sectors – multiple senses can be at play.

Professor Charles Spence, director of the University of Oxford’s Intermodal Research Laboratory in the Department of Experimental Psychology in the UK, had been studying these patterns of behavior for some time.

“I’m sitting in psychology and looking at emerging knowledge about how the human senses are connected to each other, and trying to think about how these pervasive or intersecting connections can influence people’s experiences in the real world – about products, environments, packaging, atmospheres and food and drink,”Spence told attendees at the IFSCC 2022 Congress in London.

“And the more scientists look at the human brain, the more connections we see,”he said.

For consumers looking more specifically at beauty and personal care products, there was a lot to consider when it came to the senses, he said.

“I think there’s a lot of psychology and neuroscience in building people’s expectations and experiences of cosmetics, and trying to figure out why or how it might be that adding a certain fragrance to a product has an impact on attractiveness, softness or well-being, among others.”

Living in a multisensory world

First, Spence said it was essential to understand that consumers live in a multi-sensory world where the five human senses – sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste – coalesce in the brain with connections crosses that influenced experiences and perceptions of everything.

And these crossovers, he said, could be broken down into three rules. There was the notion of “super-additivity”, according to which “individually weak indices”combined in a “consistent manner”to stimulate greater response or perception; there has been “multisensory suppression” where one or more of the senses have been suppressed; and then there was “sensory dominance” where one or more of the senses became governing.

“These multi-sensory experiences happen all the time, automatically and sometimes without our knowledge, hence their power,” he said.

“Our hope is that by understanding some of these connections in the human mind, we can gain insight into multi-sensory product design,” Spence said.

So, has the beauty industry got it right? Have the brands thought about this multisensory universe when designing the products? Yes and no, suggested the professor.

A Look at the “Lynx Effect”

Lynx marketing image owned by Unilever on Facebook [Copyright: Unilever/Lynx]

Spence and his team worked for many years with Unilever and its Lynx brand, working to gather neuroscience evidence and claim support for the so-called “Lynx Effect” widely promoted in marketing and advertising efforts. brands – the idea that wearing the fragrance increased the confidence of the wearer and therefore improving the overall attractiveness.

And research by Spence and a team in 2007 had supported the idea that pleasant scents made young women more attractive to young men, although the results were “not specific to Lynx” but rather reflected the positive impact associated with a “pleasant scent”against one “negative scent”. Follow-up research in 2013 added brain scan evidence to these appealing scoring responses, he said.

After more research and the publication of an open access literature review, Spence now believed that there was probably “five or six mechanisms”​ at work to explain when, why and how a scent can affect a person’s judgment.

But the existing literature also raises questions, he said, especially given how much of the research has been conducted with static images of predominantly white faces. “It’s debatable if you get the same with dynamic videos. What about those with different skin tones? What if you actually interact with them? (…) How is it and when is it that perfume attaches itself to a person rather than to the environment? And if it’s attached to a person, why not his clothes? These are all sorts of intriguing questions to solve.

Beyond Scent – look, feel and sound of packaging

More research into how scent influences human judgment and experience is needed, he said, but there is also a clear shift needed in how personal care and beauty companies test these. product attributes.

Beauty and fragrance companies should think about testing fragrances with consumers in final product form from the start [Getty Images]
Beauty and fragrance companies should think about testing fragrances with consumers in final product form from the start [Getty Images]

“Of course, scents are always going to come into something; we cannot ignore the multi-sensory impact of the packaging on the perception of the product”,Spence said.

Research by his team in 2014 showed, for example, that packaging weight and color saturation both influence consumers’ perceptions of a scent’s perceived intensity. It also influenced how effective people thought the product would be.

But beyond the visuals, there was also a lot to be said for the sound of the packaging – the “psycho-acoustic design” of a product — which related to the noise a product made when it was opened or closed and sprayed or applied, Spence said. Research with Unilever on its Lynx spray, for example, had indicated that changes to the nozzle shape and package format changed the sound of the spray when used, and indicated that specific designs could lead consumers to believe that the product was more effective.

“The more research I do and see, the more I see how profoundly impactful the packaging is. So it seems bizarre that fragrances and products are rated without the packaging or the applicator – it is part of the experience for us.

Speaking to CosmeticsDesign-Europe after his presentation, Spence added: “After various researches that we have conducted over the past few years, it is increasingly clear that products, whatever they are, always come in a package. And too often I see, in a variety of sectors or industries, that products and packaging meet first on the shelf.

And it seems kind of crazy not to gauge consumer response to your product in the actual packaging it’s going to appear in, because it makes such a big difference.


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