Why we love the smell of old books (video)

The old good smell of the print book is one of the major reasons not to enter digital reading.

Five years ago a team of researchers tested over 70 books. The smell is a mix of hundreds of ingredients, so-called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released into the air from the paper.

Some of the compounds were common to all the tested books: acetic acid, benzaldehyde, butanol, furfural, or methoxyphenyloxime, to name the few.

To describe it in a more accessible way, the study’s lead researcher, Matija Strlic said:

A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness, this unmistakable smell is as much a part of the book as its contents.

This is what the old book smell is, vanilla and grass. While testing, let’s say, a perfume, with exactly the same blend of ingredients, some might like it, some not. So, why most of us love it? It’s where Trace Dominguez from DNews YouTube channel comes with the answer:

Your nose is more sensitive than you think. Your favorite smell is probably tied to a memory, most likely from your childhood.

The thing is that the nose is one of the strongest ways to trigger memories. The reason is it’s tied directly into the limbic system – the system which regulates our emotions.

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