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Lavender, Rosemary Scents Affect Memory

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The calming, sedative effect of the aroma of lavender may impair memory and attention, but the stimulating effect of rosemary may enhance certain aspects of mental function, according to a team of UK researchers.

"Natural aromas can influence mental performance," study author Dr. Mark Moss, of the University of Northumbria at Newcastle, told Reuters Health.

To investigate, Moss and his colleagues performed an experiment involving 144 young adults. Working in cubicles infused with either no scent or with the aromas of lavender or rosemary, the participants completed tests of attention or reaction time; long-term memory, such as word recall and picture recognition; and working memory such as remembering a set of numbers.

Adults working in lavender-scented cubicles exhibited poorer performance on tests of their working memory and reaction times than did their peers who worked in unscented cubicles. Those who worked in rosemary-scented cubicles, on the other hand, had better long-term memory than those who worked in unscented cubicles.

Further, results of mood tests taken before and after the adults completed the memory exercises revealed that those who worked in the lavender- and rosemary-scented cubicles felt more content after they completed the memory tests than they did initially.

Study participants who worked in lavender-scented cubicles, however, reported feeling less alert after their memory exercises, while those who worked in rosemary-scented cubicles reported feeling more alert, both of which "may be reflective of their (respective) performance(s)" on the exercises, Moss said. Those who worked in cubicles with no aroma did not report any great changes in either contentment or alertness.

Despite the finding that rosemary seemed to improve long-term memory and alertness, Moss did not recommend that students take a whiff of the scent the night before a big exam. The aroma is "never going to take the place of hard work," he noted.

"My major belief is that these effects are not life-changing in themselves--we cannot provide a short-cut or quick fix," Moss stated. "However, it may be that we can use natural compounds to improve our everyday lives."

For example, the aroma of lavender may be inappropriate for cars and other vehicles if it will slow the driver's reaction time, according to the researcher. But since individuals generally use lavender to relax, the findings suggest that this purpose may be "ideal," he said.

"Certainly lavender is good if you want to relax and rosemary may be good if you want to feel a little bit brighter and (don't) want to take caffeine in the morning," Moss suggested.

The study findings were presented this month at the British Psychological Society's annual meeting in Blackpool, UK.

Reference Source 89


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