The smell of a rose during sleep would improve learning

Improving the ability to learn (or remember) during sleep is the dream of many people. In the past, it has already been proven in the laboratory that the presence of particular odors (both during learning and sleep) has a supporting effect. Recently, researchers from the University of Friborg have shown that this effect can also be obtained very easily outside the laboratory.

As part of the new study, students in two classes learned English vocabulary with and without incense sticks during the learning period and also at night. Result: the pupils remembered much better the vocabulary learned under the influence of a perfume.

"We have shown that the supporting effect of perfumes works very reliably in everyday life and can be used in a targeted way," said study director Dr. Jürgen Kornmeier, head of the research group. on perception and cognition at the IGPP in Freiburg, in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University of Freiburg, in Germany. The results of the study were published in the journal Scientific Reports .

The smell of roses during learning and sleep

For the study, the first author and student teacher Franziska Neumann conducted several experiments with 54 students from two classes of 6th grade from a school in southern Germany. The young test group participants were asked to place rose scented incense sticks on their home desks while learning English vocabulary, as well as on the bedside table next to the bed overnight.

In another experiment, they also placed the incense sticks on the table next to them during a vocabulary test at school. The results were compared to those of tests in which no incense stick had been used during one or more phases.

"The students showed a significant increase in learning success (by around 30%) if the incense sticks were used during the learning and sleeping phases," says Neumann. The results also suggest that the additional use of incense sticks during the vocabulary test promotes access to memory.

The study took place in four stages: (I) Initial presentation of the material at school (II). Learning at home. (III) Sleep (7 nights) and (IV), take a vocabulary test at school 7 days after the learning unit. No odor emitter was applied in condition N. In condition LT, students in the test group were exposed to the odor during home learning (L) and during the vocabulary test (T) seven days after the learning unit at school. In the LS condition, they were exposed to the odor during learning and during sleep for seven successive nights at home. Finally, in the LST condition, they were exposed to odor during learning at home, during sleep at home and during the final vocabulary test at school. Students in the control group learned the same vocabulary as the test group, but received no odor recall during learning, sleep, or testing. Credits: Dr. Jürgen Kornmeier / University of Friborg

Results suitable for everyday use

"A particular conclusion beyond the basic initial study was that the scent also works when present overnight," says Kornmeier. This makes the results suitable for everyday use.

Previous studies had assumed that the scent should only be present during a particularly sensitive sleep phase. However, since this sleep phase must be determined by an effective measurement of brain activity using an electroencephalogram (EEG) in a sleep laboratory, this discovery was not suitable for daily use.

“Our study shows that we can facilitate learning during sleep. And who would have thought that our nose could significantly help in this regard,” says Kornmeier.


How odor cues help to optimize learning during sleep in a real life-setting

Franziska Neumann, Vitus Oberhauser & Jürgen Kornmeier

Scientific Reports volume 10, Article number: 1227

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