Western Cultures tend to favor one sense above all others: Vision. This phenomenon is called ocularcentrism.Why are humans so focused on their sight? Taking a look back at human evolution helps us to find out.
Imagine a life and death situation to a human, thousands of years ago. Prey trying to kill us. How did we know we were in danger? Before all other senses could warn us, we could most probably see the animal approaching. It could be far away but we would see it. Way before we would hear it or even smell it. This could have been been the exact head start, that allowed us to survive.
Our brains are actually made for looking. About 20% of our brain mass is focused on receiving and analyzing visual input. The so-called visual cortex in the back of our heads is responsible for processing the information. After that, it “sends” it to other areas of the brain where it is combined with other information, or helps recall something once remembered.
Another reason, why we are very focused on visual information is because it is to transmit, especially nowadays, in the digital world. Blogs, Websites, Instagram, Tumblr etc. – endless visual information is available to our eyes just a few clicks away.
However, we shouldn’t neglect our other senses too much. Especially as designers who create experiences, we do have to consider how to deliver our content and how it can be perceived. In the past decade designers, for example in brand experience have started to create more multi-sensory experiences.
It is surprising, why it’s been emerging only in recent years, considering how powerful including different senses can be.
Smell, for example, is known as our most emotional sense. This is based on research like the studies done by Nobel Peace Prize winners Richard Axel and Linda Buck. Rather than analyzing the information we get from a smell, we immediately get a feeling or emotion. Humans can remember over 10 000 different scents and connect them to memories.
Stimulating our auditorial sense can also have strong effects which are especially made use of in retail. Music can help affect our moods and can increase/reduce our heart rate and even being able to increase physiological arousal. One study, for example, shows that slow music makes us stay longer in restaurants than if they play fast-paced music. Another study revealed that people buy more German wine than French wine in wine stores if German music is playing in the background.
Knowing the power of multi-sensory experiences can help us create more successful experiences, environment, and spaces – for ourselves, customers or audience. We should keep seeking more research about how our senses experience the world and how that can change how we shape and create our world.