TODAY   |  February 10, 2013

Sniff test! How connected is your nose to your heart?

We’ve all seen those commercials featuring people blindfolded in cars with trash in the back, sniffing the air and leaving them mystified. Turns out there’s a science behind all that surprised sniffing. TODAY’s Erica Hill reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> seen the commercials where they blindfold people and put them in these filthy-looking room which tells us they stink but the people aren't bowled over by the stench. we wanted to learn more about the science behind those adds and the $3.5 billion air scent industry. we went to philadelphia to see about that. with the commercials and campaigns, the makers of febreze try to convince you their products can mask the most offensive orders leaving people misty phied. it turns out, there is serious science behind the ads and the obnoxious odors. dr. pamela dalton is a researcher at the minel chemical center. she studies the way we process smells. she asked us to show us how those spritzes and sprays can evoke so much.

>> if somebody entered the room as they do in the commercial without the blindfold, they would be very bias about their expectations of what the room should smell like.

>> without seeing the mess, it is almost impossible to smell it, which i found out firsthand.

>> when you walked in, i smelled baby powder .

>> it smells funny.

>> no denying the importance of odor.

>> fried fish , last night, dear.

>> preferably of the pleasant variety. more than 75% of americans use air fresher. annually, all household cleaners contain some type of fragrance, adding up to a $3.5 billion industry that relies not only on your nose but also on your heart.

>> when i think about pine sol , i think about my youth and all the good memories i had growing up. memories are made of this

>> sometimes i think of my grandmother leaning out the window hang thing the clothes on the line. kind of a nice family memory.

>> reporter: it is those feelings experts say that keep people coming back for more.

>> part of the brain that processes odor information is very close to the part of the brain that processes emotions and memories. it is thought that that's why there is such a tight connection between an odor that we smell and the emotion that we experience.

>> reporter: while we can recognize 10,000 different odors, we don't have specific language to describe them. peppermint, cinnamon. we rely on memory to put them into context.

>> from fish soap to detergent, car to candles, this year, there will be hundreds of new home fragrance products promising to transport you to a happy place .

>> what are some of the odors or scents right now that you are seeing more of on the market?

>> things that remind you of a tropical island vacation, that actually take you to a different place mentally just by smelling it.

>> sometimes that escape can happen with the most unlikely odor.

>> it smells like mimi. my grandmother's. can i take this off. can i see i'm right? you made pot roast .

>> pot roast probably won't make it into this year's home fragrance lineup.

>> any time i smell this, i am at my grandparent's house in new hampshire. it is cold because it is wintertime but it is warm and fun insigh.

>> it is a powerful reminder of how connected this is to your heart.

>> one of the tests they had me do. i want you guys to be my guinea pigs for. cloth close your eyes and pinch your nose.

>> are the two guys doing this?

>> you are all doing it. put the jelly bean in your mouth and start chewing. start first. what do you taste?

>> i don't taste anything.

>> do you guys taste anything besides sugar.

>> let the nose go, one, two, three.

>> licorice.

>> glue.

>> i didn't give you licorice because you hate licorice. you have watermelon.

>> you get this rush as soon as you unplug your nose. i didn't want you to see it, because then you will identify it with your eyes like we talked about in the piece. we only have so many taste buds . so you just taste the sugar in it. as soon as you let your nose go, you have two different pathways that the odor can come from that's in the jelly bean that you tried. you got that scent. it hit a part of your brain that reminds you, that's licorice and you have this taste.

>> so what was it?

>> you had watermelon.

>> oh, so close.

>> very cool stuff.

>> we have a lot of jelly beans to eat.