Friday, January 10, 2014

How scent is a memory booster

Wearing perfume or aftershave does more than merely increase your chances of success with the opposite sex.
The scent can also improve your brainpower, say scientists. They have discovered that an unusual odour can unlock memories and boost mental performance by up to 20 per cent.
Students who wear the same perfume or aftershave in the exam room as they wore while revising, for example, perform significantly better than those who do not.
The findings by researchers at the University of Liverpool suggest the power of odour is so strong that it can be used to manipulate many aspects of human performance and behaviour.
Being exposed to an odour that we subconsciously associate with failure can have a detrimental effect.
Cognitive psychologist Dr Simon Chu, who led the research, tested the abilities of 80 volunteers to remember a list of 40 words.
Some were exposed to smells of orange or lavender while memorising the words. Those who smelled the fragrance found their recall was improved by between 15 and 20 per cent if they experienced the same odour while racking their brains, he told the British Psychological Society's centenary conference in Glasgow.
Dr Chu then gave 45 participants a three-second blast of incense or bergamot while asking them to find their way through a maze puzzle using pen and paper.
They were told that most people could complete the task within 35 seconds, although it was in fact impossible. To make them stressed and feel as though they were failing, Dr Chu began to tut and sigh as they struggled with the task.
The same volunteers were asked to perform another maze task - similar to the first, but this time solvable. Exposure to the 'failure' smell meant they took 20 per cent longer to complete the task.
'The effect was incredibly powerful,' said Dr Chu. 'It didn't matter what the odour was - if it was associated with success or with failure, then it affected performance.
'It's purely a subconscious association. The implications are that you can use odour to control behaviour in all sorts of ways.'
Scents might also prove useful to cure phobias or boost productivity, he added. Because women have a keener sense of smell than men, they might be particularly susceptible.
Sage has been known to folk medicine for centuries as possessing mind-quickening qualities and probably gave the language the word sagacious, meaning wise.
Now scientists have discovered evidence that the herb, often used as stuffing in chickens and turkeys, does indeed improve memory.
Researchers from the University of Northumbria in Newcastle upon Tyne found that volunteers' ability to remember lists of words improved by more than ten per cent if they had taken a capsule of sage oil.
The pills could be used to help students pass exams or treat dementia in the elderly, they say. Lemon balm, a member of the sage family, appeared to improve attention span and promote calmness.

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