Scientists find that strategic use of aromas during sleep may improve exam performance

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(Natural News) A recent study has shown that odor plays a role in learning, in particular, in improving exam performance. In the report, published in the journal Scientific Reports, lead author Jurgen Kornmeier noted that fragrances have a supportive effect that “works very reliably in everyday life and can be used in a targeted way.”

Their findings supported previous research that said a specific aroma can boost memory performance when paired with sleep and learning. Scientists have found that it’s easier to recall information by smelling aroma and then sleeping next to a source of the same odor. But the findings of Kornmeier and his team are among the few that applied it in real-life situations.

People take in information through their sense of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell – often in unison. The brain picks out salient information and builds a coherent picture of what’s happening around their surroundings. (Related: The science behind “familiar smells:” How odors affect memory formation in the brain.)

Details can be recalled at a later date when a small selection of this sensory information moves into short-term memory, and an even smaller proportion of that moves into long-term storage.

Probing ties between olfaction and memory

Scientists have probed the ties between olfaction and memory, with some thinking that the relationship may be useful for enhancing learning. In a 2017 study, scientists exposed participants to a particular odor who were carrying out a learning task. The same odor was also presented to all of the participants. Those who smelled the odor during slow-wave sleep performed better on memory tests than those who smelled the odor during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Similar results were also seen among those who smelled the odor during slow-wave sleep than those who were not initially presented with odor.


In the latest study, the team used this technique ex-situ. A total of 54 sixth-grade class students from Germany were recruited by scientists in the study. The participants were asked to keep rose-scented sticks next to them, while they learned English vocabulary at home. After one week, the students were given an exam.

The scientists split half of the students into four experimental groups. Those who have no exposure to any odor were in Group 1, while those exposed to the rose scent while studying at home and during the vocabulary tests went to Group 2.

Group 3 was composed of students who were exposed to the rose scent while learning at home and during each night before the test but not during the test.

Those who were exposed to the rose scent while learning at home, every night before the test, and during the test were in Group 4.

Students, who did not receive any odor acted as controls.

Groups 3 and 4 performed significantly better than those in Groups 1 and 2. Also, those in Group 2, who experienced the aroma during learning and testing did not benefit, reinforcing the importance of exposure while sleeping.

There was a significant increase in learning by about 30 percent if the incense sticks were used during learning and sleeping. The pivotal factor was that the exposure to aroma during sleep because even if Group 4 individuals performed slightly better than those in Group 3,  the difference was not significant.

The findings imply that aroma boosted memory performance even though it was present for the whole night. (Related: Researchers built a virtual landscape for studying how our sense of smell influences behavior, ability to navigate.)

“This makes the findings suitable for everyday use,” noted Kornmeier.

The 54 participants were not large enough to be definitive but there is little doubt that odor plus memory task will be useful to other people because this can be applied to real-life situations.

As the protocol is relatively easy to follow, more research will hopefully follow soon.

Due to the experiment’s real-life setting, certain limitations are inherent. For instance, the scientists had to rely on the participants to use the rose scent correctly while at home.

The researchers also had no control over the proximity of the rose-scented sticks during learning at home or sleeping, meaning that each student may have experienced varying intensities of the aroma.

All in all, the results of this study add to the existing evidence that pairing learning and sleep with a specific aroma can boost memory performance.

Watch the full video of “Finding Genius Podcast” by Josh Silverman regarding the human nose on Brighteon.TV.

This video is from Finding Genius Podcast on

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