Home » How to Control Emotion and Influence Behavior: Dawn Goldworm at TEDxEast (Transcript)

How to Control Emotion and Influence Behavior: Dawn Goldworm at TEDxEast (Transcript)

Dawn Goldworm

Here is the full transcript of Dawn Goldworm’s TEDx Talk: How to Control Emotion and Influence Behavior at TEDxEast conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio: How to control emotion and influence behavior by Dawn Goldworm at TEDxEast


I can control your emotions and influence your behavior without showing you anything, without touching you, and without saying a single word to you. This power, most people, they rarely think about it.

In fact, most people are unaware that it is being used, or that they themselves are using it. It is so powerful that new mothers use it when they want to acclimate their baby outside of the womb. And even Hitler used it to unite a crowd with one of his speeches. This power is the power of smell.

When we are only 12 weeks in our mother’s stomach, we have a fully developed sense of smell. After this first trimester we can actually smell what our mother’s eating as odor is the only sense that passes through the amniotic fluid. This is the beginning of our taste preferences. And then once we are born, our entire world is smell. It is our dominant and primary sense until we are 10 years of age. Our only other sense, if you can call it that, that’s as fully developed at this stage is emotion.

And scent and emotion work together to help us to understand, comprehend, and create our new worlds. Actually, when you smell an odor, you automatically link an emotion to it. And the scent and emotion remain forever linked together, floating around our olfactor memory, our smell memory, which is the largest and most acute part of our memory. I call them scent emoticons, scent and emotion linked together forever. This is why some of our most powerful memories are linked to smell.

The smell of freshly cut grass, our Christmas tree, our grandmother’s house, an ex-lover, one whiff, and we are immediately transported to another time, to another place. We remember the sights and the sounds. We can paint an entire picture of where we were. We can even recall with incredible precision how we felt in that moment, all with one smell. And this is what I love about the sense of smell.

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No other sense can transport us and make us feel that emotional connection like scent can. Many new mothers already know this, which is why they use a t-shirt or blanket with their scent on it to soothe their new baby when they need to separate from them. This allows a child to still feel safe when the mother is no longer holding them. At this stage in life, we imagine that touch is the most important. But a child, a newborn child, will allow its mother to stop holding them if her smell is there.

And the research on Hitler is amazing. He would have his people come in hours before he was to give a talk, spray the entire arena with scent, so he could create the mood even before he took the stage. And it’s not just mothers and dictators who understand –  how scent can influence behavior. The power scent completely transformed the way Procter & Gamble market laundry detergent. For years and years, the value proposition for laundry detergent was get your whites whiter and your brights brighter, because when people were asked in focus groups what was important to them them, this is what they said.

So various brands competed: one would use bleach; one would use oxygen; another would use chloride. But then, in the 1980s, Procter & Gamble decided to do some research. They hired a clever anthropologist to go into people’s homes and watch them do their laundry. This is what they discovered: when people were done washing their clothes, no one held it up to the sunlight to see how bright it was, and no one compared it to see how white it was.

The first thing people did when they were finished washing their laundry was hold it up to their nose and smell it. Because, at the end of the day, it doesn’t make as much of a difference how clean our clothes look; it matters if they smell clean. But who cares? Unless you’re a mother, a marketer, or a dictator, why does this matter in the world? I believe that scent is completely underutilized in our lives.

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Scent has the potential to change the way in which we see the world. Scent can make everything more enjoyable, more emotional, more memorable. Think about when we want to go on a date. We look in the mirror, we want to look nice, we put on makeup, we pick out our favorite dress, maybe our favorite shirt, but few of us consider if our smell will attract our future mate. If we go on an anniversary, or we want to propose marriage, we buy a ring, maybe flowers, a gift, we set the stage, we dim the lights, we put on some soft music. But do we ever consider if the smell of the room elicits the response that we want? The lighting, the sound, the flowers, the scent, should all work together to help us say, “I love you, I want to dedicate my life to you.”

Today scent is an obvious place, where it matters in laundry detergent, but all companies should consider the emotional impact they can have simply by adding a smell. A recent study done in a Nike store showed that when a brand-appropriate scent was used, customers felt the overall store experience was better, the services were elevated the impact of which meant customers spent more money.

Now, when I talk to you about scent, I’m not talking to you about the smells that we’re used to experiencing in our life, I’m not talking about the smell of lemons, or the smell of apple, or the smell of vanilla; I’m talking about a highly sophisticated instrument being used in a highly sophisticated way. For example, if I were to give you a talk on painting, I would talk to you more than just about primary colors.

Children’s painting. What’s amazing here: all of the colors that were used in that children’s painting are also used in this Monet. There are only three primary colors, that’s all there are, but it’s how Monet mixes them together to evoke an entirely new scene and create an entirely new emotion.

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The same goes for music. There’s only one scale of music, there are only seven notes, but chopsticks sounds very, very different to a Beethoven symphony. It’s not the number of notes that Beethoven uses; it’s how he mixes them together. And scent works in exactly the same way. It’s not the primary colors or simple ingredients or big notes, we can paint a Monet or create a Beethoven symphony with smell. This is what fascinates me. This is what I have dedicated my life to: to finding all of the grand paintings and all of the master symphonies that I can compose for your nose.

And here’s the best part: whether you like Picasso more than Monet or whether you prefer Bach to Beethoven, the smells that you like or don’t like are not your own subjective opinion. They are rather almost entirely formed by your culture, your generation and your living environment from the first 10 years of your life. The smells that you find good, pleasant, pleasureful, or bad, unhealthy, even gross, you learned when you were a child.

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