Jenny Tillotson: Science, Smell, and Fasion
August 6, 2014
Jenny Tillotson is a researcher and fashion designer who is currently exploring how scent plays a role in emotion and psychological states. As someone living with bipolar disorder, she’s been acutely aware of what affects her own emotions states and has been exploring different methods to track them. In this talk, presented at the 2014 Quantified Self Europe Conference, Jenny discusses her new project, Sensory Fashion, that uses wearable tracking technology and scent and sensory science to improve wellbeing. Be sure to read her description below when you finish watching her excellent talk.
You can also view the slides here.
What did you do?
I established a new QS project called ‘SENSORY FASHION’, funded by a Winston Churchill Fellowship that combines biology with wearable technology to benefit people with chronic mental health conditions. This allowed me to travel to the USA and meet leading psychiatrists, psychologists and mindfulness experts and find new ways to build monitoring tools that SENSE and balance the physiological, psychological and emotional states through the sense of smell. My objective was to manage stress and sleep disturbance using olfactory diagnostic biosensing tools and micro delivery systems that dispense aromas on-demand. The purpose was to tap into the limbic system (the emotional centre of our brain) with aromas that reduce sleep and stress triggers and therefore prevent a major relapse for people like myself who live with bipolar disorder on a day to day basis. I designed my own personalized mood-enhancing ‘aroma rainbow’ that dispenses a spectrum of wellbeing fragrances to complement orthodox medication regimes such as taking mood stabilizers.
How did you do it?
Initially by experimenting with different evidence-based essential oils with accessible clinical data, such as inhaling lavender to aid relaxation and help sleep, sweet orange to reduce anxiety and peppermint to stimulate the brain. I developed a technology platform called ‘eScent’ which is a wearable device that distributes scent directly into the immediate vicinity of the wearer upon a biometric sensed stimuli (body odor, ECG, cognitive response, skin conductivity etc). The scent forms a localized and personalized ‘scent bubble’ around the user which is unique to the invention, creating real-time biofeedback scent interventions. The result promotes sleep hygiene and can treat a range of mood disorders with counter-active calming aromas when high stress levels reach a pre-set threshold.
What did you learn?
I learnt it is possible to track emotional states through body smells, for example by detecting scent signals that are specific to individual humans. In my case this was body odor caused by chronic social anxiety from increased cortisol levels found in sweat and this could be treated with anxiolytic aromas such as sweet orange that create an immediate calming effect. In addition, building olfactory tools can boost self-confidence and communication skills, or identify ‘prodromal symptoms’ in mood disorders; they learn your typical patterns and act as a warning signal by monitoring minor cognitive shifts before the bigger shifts appear. This can easily be integrated into ‘Sensory Fashion’ and jewelry in a ‘de-stigmatizing’ manner, giving the user the prospect of attempting to offer them some further control of their emotional state through smell, whether by conscious control or bio-feedback. The next step is to miniaturize the eScent technology and further explore the untapped research data on the science of body (emotional) odor.