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The Sweet Smell of Success

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The sense of smell has long been reputed to have the power to evoke memories. But until a new study by a Yale University research psychologist on the stimulative effects of odor on memory, there was little conclusive scientific evidence to give such claims more than a romantic sort of credence.

Frank Schab studied a group of Yale undergraduates, exposing some to such varied odors as chocolate, peppermint, and mothballs during word learning and recall exercises scheduled 24 hours apart. The words and aromas were linked in both sessions. A report of his work appeared in last month's issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Subjects who were exposed to the odors recalled information at a rate 50 percent higher than did those who had not been exposed, signaling that odors may indeed be able to serve as retrieval cues in an educational setting.

The pleasantness of the odor did not seem to matter, Mr. Schab said; mothballs worked as well as chocolate in improving the rate of recall.

Mr. Schab said that the power of the aromas to increase recall of information for 24 hours suggests that the sense of smell has a "rather powerful long-term effect on memory, especially since odors tend to be remembered for a longer time than, say, pictures."

What about the use of fragrance as a study aid at exam time? Would it be effective to assign different aromas to different subjects to keep an abundance of information on numerous topics from becoming a cerebral jumble?

Sadly, Mr. Schab concludes, "There is no real evidence that this would be especially effective." He added, though, that future research may provide further insight into such educational uses.

It could prove a real breath of fresh air for educational research.--ewl

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