A recent interest in malodors is not exclusive to playing a part in military immersive training simulations. In the past, scent effects have both been used to prepare future soldiers for the disorientation certain smells can create. As well, they are used to teach students how to recognize the scents of danger before it’s too late. As scent is the only sense that is directly linked to the emotion and long term memory center of the brain, the limbic system, the reaction to unfamiliar and stark malodors causes an inherent, and difficult to control, “fight or flight” response.
This response characteristic can be leveraged when facing enemy combatants. Inducing this explicitly illogical reaction caused by malodors can buy us time. Disorientation is a powerful strategy.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) has already thought of this. The DoD is determined to find a loophole that will allow forceful odorous bomb, or stink bombs, within the military’s arsenal of weapons for warfare. According to the New Scientist article: “Stink bombs do not cause injury, but the intense, unfamiliar foul smells affect the amygdala and trigger an unthinking fear reaction that causes the target to flee.”
Currently, weapons of this category are classified as an RCA, or riot-control agent; also considered a chemical agent. Weapons under this classification are illegal, deemed by the Chemical Weapons Convention. However, the DoD’s loophole is based on the nuance within the classification’s definition. RCA’s are illegal because they activate the trigeminal nerve, a sensory processing nerve made up of three sub-nerves; ophthalmic, maxillary, and mandibular. Of the physiological responses induced by affecting the trigimenal nerve is: “increased salivation, vasodilation, tearing, nasal secretion, sweating, decreased respiratory rate, and bronchoconstriction”. If the DoD can successfully create malodorous stink bombs that do not activate these responses, an arsenal full of aromas may become a realization.
As our understanding of the neuro-responses and processes expand, the power of activating multiple pathways to illogical responses for either inoculation, learning and even weaponry will become utilized more than ever before. Malodor scent design is effective, valuable and the next step towards strategic weapon making as well as support in building effective training curriculums.