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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 20-Jan-13


Sunday 20-January-13

Air fresheners and adaptation

Do you use air fresheners? Many people do. Me too. Perhaps the earliest form of making the place smell nice is a bunch of fragrant flowers or aromatic herbs. Although flowers and pot pourris are still used, these days we tend to buy commercial products as they are more convenient, cheaper and last longer.

A common reason we buy air fresheners is not so much for us as for other people. We dread to think that others will encounter bad smells in our houses as this invokes disgust, which is a powerful emotion that leads to much-feared social rejection. This is also why we wash, dress nicely, wear scent and do a host of other things to show we are clean and healthy people.

A part of the problem is that we do not notice our own smells. From our bodies to our cars and houses, our own environments seem to smell neutral. This is due to the process of adaptation, where we become so used to things we do not notice them. It is a useful mechanism for becoming accustomed to all kinds of uncomfortable situations, from harsh climates to bad breath, but it is not always desirable.

Adaptation can be a problem when we want to keep noticing or feeling things, for example staying happy about our successes, as we return to emotional neutral surprisingly quickly. This also happens with air fresheners. We want to enjoy the nice smells as well as being reassured that the freshener is still working, but soon after installing them they seem to become far less effective. Manufacturers may like this when we buy replacements more often than we need to, but suffer when we buy products from other suppliers or just give up using them as they seem not to work.

So I found a freshener system the other day from Ambi Pur that overcomes the adaptation problem. It has three vials of different smells and cycles between them, and indeed it seems to be working as I notice the nice smells more often. It is a clever system that plugs into the wall and reinforces the cycling with three little lights. It also uses a 'razor and blades' strategy: the main electronics unit is very cheap as the manufacturer makes the profit on endless purchases of plug-in refills!

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