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Memory formation: Learn better with the scent of roses

Memory formation: Learn better with the scent of roses

Status: 09/04/2023 08:13 AM

Those who learn by the scent of roses and inhale the scent at night can learn best. A research team in Freiburg observed this in an experiment. But why does the brain learn better with smells?

What goes into a person’s long-term memory and what doesn’t? The brain has to constantly filter and make decisions. “This is where smell comes into play,” says neuroscientist Jürgen Kornmeyer of the Freiburg Borderlands Institute for Psychology and Mental Health.

in the specialized magazinenatureIn the published study, study participants had to learn Japanese vocabulary. Those who learned with the scent of roses and inhaled the scent at night performed better on a subsequent vocabulary test. All 165 test subjects received scented envelopes and learned a total of 40 words over the course of Three days Half of the study participants received only the scent of roses, while the other half only had scraps of paper in the envelope A comparison of the two groups shows that those who learned about the scent of roses were able to recall 8.5 percent more items in the vocabulary test.

Why the brain learns better with smells

Kornmeier dem says, “When we learn something, it is always about context.” SWR. Fragrances can play a role in this. Vocabulary associated with smell when learning. This should enable the brain to better store and retrieve what it has learned during the test. This is why the study participants were also allowed to smell the roses in a subsequent vocabulary test. In this way, the brain should be able to retrieve information associated with smell, in this case vocabulary, more quickly.

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Brain scans and previous experiments on mice have shown that scents are particularly energizing for the brain. Above all, the brain’s hippocampus, the mediator between short and long-term memory, is activated by smells. According to the theory, the information recorded at the same time then reaches long-term memory.

Smell while sleeping improves memory

What exactly the brain stores is also determined during sleep. Previous experiments in the sleep lab showed that during the deep sleep phase, the brain rearranges at least some of what it learned at night and decides which information goes into long-term memory. With smell, the learning content should be reactivated on the day when the brain summarizes what has been experienced and learned. “Then the likelihood that the learning content will be taken into the consolidation process increases,” says Kornmeier.

Savings are made especially in the stage of deep sleep. If the brain has already associated information with the same scent during the day, then the scent alone at night could help store it in long-term memory, according to the thesis. In accordance with this, the same neurons that have already fired in the waking state are activated during learning.

Daily fragrance effect

So far, previous studies have only observed the effect of smell in the sleep lab. The fragrance was only introduced during the deep sleep stage – eliminating the worry that fragrance could disturb the dreaming stages. “But we can present the scent all night and it still works,” says neuroscientist Kornmeier. This is the first time that an odor effect has been observed in this way, not just in the lab but at home.

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This makes the application more suitable for daily use. Because in the Freiburg field study, the test participants learned at home, and not in an artificial environment, as is often the case with such tests, that is, in the rooms of the research team.

Smell helps maximize learning

One thing is clear: the smell can only support. No one can do without actual learning. But smell helps when it comes to efficiency: It’s especially effective when there’s little time to study, Kornmeyer suspects: “Then smell might act as a kind of booster.” Smells can help reach maximum learning faster.

However, the use of scent probably does not protect against forgetfulness. The effect of smell could be clearly observed only in the first vocabulary test one day immediately after the learning phase. After a week or even a month, the effect noticeably weakened. The test results of one fragrance group were no longer significantly better than those of the other group.

Not only are they a symbol of love, but they can also aid in learning: roses.

Photo: Image Alliance/dpa

Perhaps it’s not just the scent of roses that helps

Why does the rose actually smell? Most studies have examined the possible educational effects of the scent of roses. “But this is just a coincidence and it’s due to the original study,” says Kornmeyer. The first study on this topic experimented with the scent of roses. In order to be able to better compare our results with this first study, follow-up studies also used the scent of roses. “But I am absolutely convinced that other scents work as well. But of course this has to be shown in future studies.”

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The scent of lavender, orange, or many other scents can help learning, at least in the short term. However, research teams are still only beginning to understand how the brain stores information in memory and processes it at night. One thing is clear: what smells good can at least help with your next vocabulary test or quiz.