According to new research, coffee-like scents helped people perform better on analytic tasks.
The Stevens Institute of Technology recently conducted a study where 100 undergraduate participants were given a 10-question GMAT algebra test in a computer lab.
The students were divided into two groups, with one taking the test in the presence of an ambient coffee-like scent, while a control group took the same test – but in an unscented room.
They found that the group in the coffee-smelling room scored significantly higher on the test.
Professor Adriana Madzharov told Science Daily that this not only highlights the hidden force of scent and the cognitive boost it may provide on analytical tasks, but also the expectation that students will perform better on those tasks.
“It’s not just that the coffee-like scent helped people perform better on analytical tasks, which was already interesting,” Madzharov said.
“But they also thought they would do better, and we demonstrated that this expectation was at least partly responsible for their improved performance.”
Delving deeper, Professor Madzharov’s team conducted a follow-up survey involving more than 200 new participants and quizzed them on their beliefs about various scents and their perceived effects on human performance.
According to the findings, participants believed they would feel more alert and energetic in the presence of a coffee scent, versus a flower scent or no scent; and that exposure to coffee scent would increase their performance on mental tasks.
The results suggest that expectations about performance can be explained by beliefs that coffee scent alone makes people more alert and energetic.
Professor Madzharov – whose research focuses on sensory marketing and aesthetics – is now looking to explore whether coffee-like scents can have a similar placebo effect on other types of performance, such as verbal reasoning.
She also says that the finding – that coffee-like scent acts as a placebo for analytical reasoning performance – has many practical applications, including several for business.
“Olfaction is one of our most powerful senses,” Professor Madzharov said.
“Employers, architects, building developers, retail space managers and others, can use subtle scents to help shape employees’ or occupants’ experience with their environment. It’s an area of great interest and potential.”