On those mornings when you’re really dragging, coffee is a straight-up superhero that swoops in with its energy-boosting superpowers and saves the day. But it turns out, you don’t even necessarily need to imbibe the brew to reap its eye-opening benefits. According to new research, you just need to take a whiff or two to amp up your brain power and help you take on any challenges that come your way.
In the study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, researchers had 100 business undergrads take an algebra test with 10 questions from the graduate management admission test (GMAT), which is required for entry into business school. Participants were evenly split into two testing rooms, one of which was filled with a coffee scent. The results showed that those who were surrounded by the coffee aroma scored “significantly higher” than those who weren’t.
“It’s not just that the coffee-like scent helped people perform better on analytical tasks, which was already interesting. But they also thought they would do better, and we demonstrated that this expectation was at least partly responsible for their improved performance,” —lead study author Dr. Adriana Madzharov
Even though the scent doesn’t contain any caffeine, the effects were on par with those of coffee, not only making the participants feel more alert but also increasing their cognitive performance. Clearly, biohacking your sense of smell can produce results. In fact, the technique is already used more often than you’d think. “Olfaction is one of our most powerful senses. Employers, architects, building developers, retail space managers, and others can use subtle scents to help shape employees’ or occupants’ experience with their environment,” lead study author Adriana Madzharov, PhD, says in a press release.
However, the coffee scent was not the only reason certain students tested so well. After a follow-up survey of 200 new participants, the researchers realized many people already believed the aroma would make them feel more alert and energetic. Because of that, researchers think a placebo effect might have played into the high test scores, too. “It’s not just that the coffee-like scent helped people perform better on analytical tasks, which was already interesting. But they also thought they would do better, and we demonstrated that this expectation was at least partly responsible for their improved performance,” Dr. Madzharoy says.
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