Several studies over the last decade have examined the effects of both soothing and arousing/exciting scents on a number of psychological variables. Here is an experiment that studied the effect of arousing/exciting scents on alertness and job performance, published in 2009 in the North American Journal of Psychology.
Research previous to this experiment demonstrated that both cinnamon and peppermint scents influence alertness, motivation, and task performance.
Both are arousing/exciting scents (as opposed to calming or soothing ones).
This experiment was intended to test the effect of these odors on a specific task: driving.
- Why driving? Well, the researchers point out that the total annual societal cost of motor vehicle accidents is $150 billion.
- About 1 million of those accidents are the result of lapses of attention in drivers.
- Any factor that could reduce the number of accidents (and of course, fatalities) is an improvement!
The researchers recruited 25 college students to participant in a driving simulation.
Each participant was placed into a virtual driving simulator and given a nasal apparatus that delivered either:
- Oxygen with cinnamon oil
- Unscented low-flow oxygen
- Oxygen with peppermint oil
The driving simulation gives the participant pre-set scenarios and a path to follow. It is set up like a regular car: pedals, windshield (screen), steering wheel, etc.
As the participants were “driving” in the simulator, a number of assessments were taken at regular intervals:
- Mood state
- Work demands (how mentally and physically taxing the driving was for the participant)
- Temporal demands (how quickly the time seemed to pass)
- Participant reaction (effort, frustration, performance)
- Level of alertness
Each participant did a 2-hour drive, three times (each drive was 2 days apart).
- Peppermint reduced anxiety over all 3 drives.
- Peppermint reduced fatigue over all 3 drives.
- Cinnamon reduced fatigue over time (it gradually took effect in the later drives).
- Temporal Demands:
- Both peppermint and cinnamon made participants feel that the time passed more quickly (compared to no scent).
- Time flies when your environment smells better!
- Peppermint and cinnamon both decreased frustration while driving (compared to no scent).
- Peppermint and cinnamon both increased alertness through the course of the experiment (compared to no scent).
This is evidence that we can use scent to increase performance on highly demanding tasks.
Arousing scents (like peppermint or cinnamon) seem to decrease anxiety, decrease frustration, reduce fatigue, make time pass more quickly, and increase alertness.
All these things are crucial, especially in tiring, monotonous tasks in which errors can be fatal.
Raudenbush, B., Grayhem, R., Sears, T., & Wilson, I. (2009). Effects of peppermint and cinnamon odor administration on simulated driving alertness, mood and workload. North American Journal of Psychology, 11(2), 245-256. Link: https://wakupinc.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Effects-of-Peppermint-and-Cinnamon-Odor-Administration-on-Simulated-Driving-AlertnessMood-and-Workload.pdf