ManThe emerging field of health psychology pertains to how environmental factors can influence physical health. New research suggests the perception of everyday smells can trigger physical symptoms such as fatigue, chest pain and lower back pain.

University of Nottingham researchers presented their findings at a health psychology conference for the British Psychological Society (BPS).

The researchers investigated how stress, intense odors and personality combined to explain everyday physical symptoms that appear to have no medical basis — such as abdominal pain, fatigue, chest pain and lower back pain.

They studied 194 individuals, who completed a structured diary twice a day for eight days, recording their experiences of common physical symptoms, odors, sounds and stress.

Seventy different odors were reported with hot food, paint, smoke/fire, coffee, and chemicals the most frequently mentioned.

Symptoms were reported to worsen at the same time as the intensity of odor, and levels of stress, increased. However, only the intensity of odor, not stress, predicted future symptom reporting over a short half-day interval.

Professor Ferguson said: “These results highlight the importance of everyday odor with respect to the experience of common physical symptom, showing that common environmental experiences, rather than stress, predict symptoms over short intervals. It may be that people come to associate particular odors with symptoms and the experience of the odor ‘triggers’ the experience of symptoms.”

Source: University of Nottingham