Scent and sensibility: boost your cognitive performance!

“For people could close their eyes to greatness, to horrors, to beauty, and their ears to melodies or deceiving words. But they couldn’t escape scent. For scent was a brother of breath <…> He who ruled scent ruled the hearts of men.” 

― Patrick SüskindPerfume: The Story of a Murderer

The warm scent of mother’s cinnamon rolls, the tender smell of a 2-year old niece, fresh odor of spring flowers, the smell of a new library book, or, probably the languid scent of Saint Laurent perfume – what is the fragrance of your life? As a matter of fact, smell is not only about sensing the world around you through your nostrils, nor it is about the latest fashionable redolent fragrances. Surprisingly, but smell can also serve as a huge weapon to manipulate our feelings, memory and cognitive abilities.


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Remember, how the smell of childhood toy can trigger the early memories, which you thought are long since fell into Oblivion? This happens because of the olfactory bulb, which belongs to the part of brain closely associated with memory and feeling so as it is even called the “emotional brain”. The olfactory bulb has close access to the amygdala, which processes emotion, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning. And due to this function smells can call up the memories almost instantly (Dowdey, n.d.).

Apart from keeping the brightest memories in our brain, smells can boost our cognitive functioning, which is a really groundbreaking fact.  According to the enquiry of Hulshof (2013), individuals with a high education level comparing with those of low and medium education level tend to show better scores on a detail-oriented cognitive task in a meeting room aromatized with a stimulating scent. Therefore, what scents can provoke our brain work more productively? As Hulshof (2013) suggests, the scent of a peppermint had a huge stimulating effect on the brain alertness and concentration, also “Moss et al. (2008) and Raudenbosch et al. (2009) found that peppermint enhanced memory (p. 50)” (as cited in Hulshof, 2013). As Degel and Köster (1999) reveal in their study, the odors of lavender and cloves also bear an effect on three cognitive skills, such as memory, affective reaction and mood of college students. As the findings show, the odor of lavender diffused for1 week throughout the laboratory facilitated the productivity of students and boosted their mood, whereas the odor of clove only made them feel agitated and decreased their willingness to return back to the laboratory. Therefore, researchers came to the conclusion that lavender odor is physiologically relaxing, moreover, has a great impact on memory capacity and brain efficiency. Furthermore, Brooks (2012) in her study outlines the positive effect of rosemary odor on cognitive performance, more specifically, its impact on the way students handle the mental arithmetic task – as research shows, it improved significantly; thus, teachers of math should immediately take advantage of this research!


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As for other teachers, I highly recommend you to use nice odors of peppermint or lavender (or any other redolent scents) during your lessons, so it would not only boost the mood of your students, but your lessons would be associated with something pleasant and the knowledge you give would be kept in their memory forever (until the first quiz, at least ;)).


Brooks, M. (2012). Scent of rosemary may boost cognitive performance. Retrieved from

Degel, J., & Köster, E. P. (1999). Odors: implicit memory and performance effects. Chemical Senses24(3), 317-325. Retrieved from

Dowdey, S. (n.d.). How smell works. Retrieved from

Hulshof, B. (2013). The influence of colour and scent on people’s mood and cognitive performance in meeting rooms. Retrieved from


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