Hay What's That Smell? The Effects of Barn Associated Odors on Equestrians and Non-Equestrians

Kathryn Kirkham, Butler University


Past research has suggested that people respond favorably to scents that are linked to autobiographical memories (e.g., Emsenhuber, 2013). The current study investigated how equestrians and non-equestrians might perceive scents associated with horse barns differently. Participants with varying levels of experience with horses had their facial electromyography measured during the presentation of barn and non-barn related scents. They also rated the pleasantness and emotional evocativeness of each scent. It was hypothesized that equestrians would experience more of a calming effect in response to the barn-related scents, perceive them as more pleasant, and rate them as more emotionally evocative than non-equestrians. This hypothesis was partially supported, as equestrians showed lower levels of anxiety after presentation of the scents, rated the scent of hay as more pleasant, and experienced more initial smile activation in response to the scent of hay than non-equestrians. Implications of these results for the Proustian Phenomenon are discussed.