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Sniffing the distance: Scents can make objects appear closer

Ruzeviciute, R., Kamleitner, B., Estes, Z. ORCID: 0000-0003-4350-3524 & Biswas, D. (2023). Sniffing the distance: Scents can make objects appear closer. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 91, article number 102104. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2023.102104


Judging distances between oneself and objects in the environment is vital. Such distance judgments are based mostly on visual cues. But can smelling an object also affect how close the object appears? Building on sensory distance theory, we suggest that scents can make objects seem physically closer. We investigate this effect across four studies (total N = 479) using a range of scents, objects, and distances. Leading to predictable estimation biases, the effect emerges regardless of scent salience and holds across different scent delivery modes: directly from an object (Study 1), surrogate via vial (Study 2 and 3), and ambient (Study 4). The biasing influence of scent persists even when the accuracy of estimates is incentivized (Study 2) and is stronger when cognitive resources are unconstrained (Study 4). While the effect emerges even when scents emanate from targets that are typically unscented (e.g., notepad; Study 1), it is attenuated when the scent is not associated with the target (Study 3). These findings highlight a novel role of scent in spatial cognition and hold implications for distance perception and distancing behaviors.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2023. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license
Publisher Keywords: Olfaction, smell, scent, distance, proximity, bias
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Q Science > QH Natural history > QH301 Biology
Departments: Bayes Business School > Management
[thumbnail of Ruzeviciute et al PREPRINT.pdf] Text - Accepted Version
This document is not freely accessible until 18 August 2025 due to copyright restrictions.
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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