A small study of just 20 people has produced some interesting results about how different aromas can affect human performance.
Four drops of rosemary oil were placed on an absorbent pad and allowed to diffuse throughout the 20 work cubicles of the study subjects. Volunteers were then seated in the cubicles for periods ranging from four to 10 minutes before being given three computerized tasks to perform. They also filled out mood evaluation questionnaires before and after exposure to the rosemary scent.
Afterwards, a blood sample was taken and how much rosemary oil had been absorbed into the blood was estimated by measurement of its 1,8-cineole (eucalyptol) content. Rosemary oil generally contains 35 to 45 percent eucalyptol. The amount of eucalyptol in their blood was then compared to volunteers’ performance at the computerized tasks and to their mood, to see if it had any effect on them.
The more eucalyptol there was in their blood, the better the volunteers performed on the subtraction by threes task, both in their number of correct answers and reaction time. A similar but smaller effect was found for the serial subtraction by sevens task; there, the increase in speed was statistically significant, but the increase in accuracy was not. The amount of eucalyptol in the blood had no effect on the visual performance task.
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Most consumers won’t read the research paper. They rely on the popular media to provide the information. But, you can question that information and you should. Don’t fall for the hype of “new scientific research shows” product X shows great promise. It may not.
A few things to note with this study: I don’t see controls. How do we know what the eucalyptol was in their blood before the test? Did it matter how long they sat there? It was small number of people to be able to make a conclusion across the population. All in all: this is a pretty much worthless test unless it’s considered a pilot to improve upon. Anyway, studies like this that come out in the press seemed designed to get people’s hopes up about a product (see green coffee bean study) but the study is NOT done well enough to show that the product truly does what they say. Also, what I can’t see is who paid for the study. That’s an important feature since more and more of these small questionable studies are suspiciously hyped to try to get people to buy a product already out there.