The Fragrant Brain 'Peppermint' by Aleksa Lukic

The Fragrant Brain

Many people say that nothing is more memorable than a smell. However, is it really true that aromas influence the way we are seeing things?

“Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.”

- Patrick Süskind, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Peppermint vs. Lavender

We all know that aromas may sometimes influence the way we feel, but can they also change the way we attend to the physical world?
The stimulating aroma peppermint is supposed to increase arousal and induce a less distributed state of mind, while Lavender, a calming olfactory fragrance, is instead considered to induce relaxation and a more distributed state of mind.

Attentional Blink

In our recent published study we tested the idea that aromas change the way we see things by letting participants performed the Attentional Blink (AB) task, known to produce a deficit in reporting the second of two target stimuli presented in close succession in a rapid sequence of distracters, while being exposed to either peppermint and lavender aroma.

See here a nice demonstration of how the AB looks like:

Compared to the calming lavender aroma, the arousing peppermint condition showed a larger AB. That is, while being exposed to lavender, people report the second target more often.

Our results demonstrate that indeed odors affect the way we attend to physical world by inducing a more (lavender) or a less (peppermint) distributed state of mind.

Colzato, L.S., Sellaro, R., Rossi Paccani, C., & Hommel, B. (2014). Attentional control in the Attentional Blink is modulated by odor. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics. doi: 10.3758/s13414-014-0733-0