As many students can attest to, sleep and memory consolidation go hand-in-hand when it comes to learning.
With finals approaching, this fact is more important than ever, but did you know that your sense of smell also plays a role in your learning, and a significant one at that?
A joint study consisting of Israeli researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) and Weizmann Institute of Science developed a fascinating method of strengthening one’s memory through the incorporation of scents; in their study’s case, through the scent of a rose.
Led by Ella Bar, a PhD student at TAU and Weizmann, the study’s method of approach required that participants attempt to remember the location of words on either the left or right side of a screen.
While they were learning these word locations, the scent of a rose was administered. After this was completed, the participants were tested on the locations, and then were asked to go to sleep, a time period during which the rose scent was once again incorporated, but only in one nostril.
After the participants woke up, they were once again tested on the word locations. Amazingly, the results showed just how much scent is involved in memory consolidation.
“The memory of the subjects was significantly better for words presented on the side affected by smell than the memory for words presented on the other side,” Bar said.
The reasoning behind their “left-right” process is because most memories associated with the right side of the body are held in the left hemisphere, and those memories associated with the left side of the body are held in the right hemisphere.
“Triggering consolidation processes in only one side of the brain during sleep allowed us to compare the activity between the hemispheres and isolate the specific activity that corresponds to memory reactivation,” explained Professor Yuval Nir, a researcher involved in the study,
But simple tests weren’t the only analytical resource these researchers tried. Utilizing an electroencepholagram, a non-invasive electrophysiological method to record the electrical activity of the brain, the researchers discovered that the hemisphere exposed to the rose scent during sleep experienced higher levels of activity than the hemisphere that did not.
“Our findings emphasize that the memory consolidation process can be amplified by external cues such as scents,” said Bar.
But the real question remains: how does one apply this methodology practically? And more importantly, how does one do this during lecture?
You could perhaps wear a specific cologne or perfume while studying or in lecture, and then use that same one during an exam. Your options are, of course, very limited when an exam is involved; this may require a bit of creativity on your part.
All studying aside, this process could be very beneficial for those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or for those who have lost memories due to brain injuries.
“Beyond promoting basic scientific understanding, we hope that in the future this method may also have clinical applications,” said Bar.
“For instance, post-traumatic patients show higher activity in the right hemisphere when recalling a trauma, possibly related to its emotional content. The technique we developed could potentially influence this aspect of the memory during sleep and decrease the emotional stress that accompanies recall of the traumatic memory. Additionally, this method could be further developed to assist in rehabilitation therapy after one-sided brain damage due to stroke.”