Stimulating Scents Can Improve Confidence and Concentration
You are about to go on a date with a guy you met at school. You had a great conversation with him, and you both really clicked. He even commented on how white and beautiful your teeth are when you smile. The only issue is that now you have been stress eating for this date, and you cannot resist the garlic bread and ice cream in your refrigerator and freezer. You start eating, and then you realize that your date will be picking you up in five minutes.
You quickly run to the bathroom to brush your teeth and rinse with mouthwash, but you realize that your special Listerine with hydrogen peroxide is empty, and you don’t have time to make it to the store.
You run all over the place trying to find a substitute, and in the pantry, you find the Ice Breakers Cool Mint gum you bought last week. You pop a few pieces in your mouth, breathe in and out and smell that fresh breath.
Your date rings the doorbell, and you feel ready to talk his ear off about anything on your mind, leaving behind the anxiety that your breath is unpleasant. This anxiety mostly can trigger when you are going to a social event with your peers or superiors. Having a mint before going out might be an answer to social anxiety in these situations.
Rodney Swain, professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has done research on the structure of the brain, how certain areas can affect concentration, and which aids there are for the brain to increase alertness. Swain explained that when someone has fresh breath, they are more likely to be confident in their appearance, and therefore, more outgoing than those who choose to minimally care about their looks.
“There is evidence that there is a social confidence associated with mint,” Swain said.
Julia Heim, a sophomore at Mount Mary majoring in fashion design, said she eats mints when she needs to be more confident in herself.
“I eat mints more for my breath to smell good,” Heim said. “I feel more confident in myself when my breath smells nice.”
Swain often has mints when he has a meeting or another social encounter with someone.
“I want to feel confident in a social interaction and not worry if I have bad breath,” Swain said.
Kali Reagles, a sophomore and theology major, said she mint helps her concentrate.
“It’s not an instant effect, but my concentration gradually gets better with a mint,” Reagles said.
While people may think that eating a mint and digesting it is what helps someone focus, it is actually the stimulating scent that triggers your brain to get it working.
Dr. Mary Ellen Lonergan-Cullum, assistant professor of psychology at Mount Mary, said that certain smells bring back good or bad memories and can either improve mood or deflate a positive mood.
“It is well known that in the nasal cavity, the receptor does send a message to the olfactory bulb in the brain, and there is a strong connection between the olfactory bulb and the hippocampus, which is important for new memory formation,” Lonergan-Cullum said. “Those are the only two structures in the adult human brain that we know of that can continue to make new neurons.”
Lonergan-Cullum said that there are an array of aromas that can aid in helping a person achieve a certain feeling. For example, you might associate different smells with a significant person in your life. A specific perfume smell might remind you of your grandmother if she wore that perfume, the smell of a specific type of material like leather might remind you of someone who liked that material, or the smell of fresh baked bread might remind you of when someone significant to you used to bake.
“When looking specifically at mint, it is used more to increase attention and alertness,” Lonergan-Cullum said. “In order to remember something you have to pay attention to it.”
The peppermint smell can trigger your brain and increase your attention in that moment. Lonergan-Cullum said that peppermint can be useful to calm your arousal level so you can focus on what needs to be done to succeed.
“[Mint] also helps with motor control and episodic memory,” Lonergan-Cullum said.
Swain said studying on an empty stomach is good for your brain, and your concentration is best when you are not too full.
“You don’t want to be completely carb loaded,” Swain said. “That tends to be sedating. You want to be slightly hungry … Having a mint instead of eating a meal is better.”
Kristin Hardwick, a freshman majoring in fashion design, said that she uses mint to help her study.
“I always have mint gum with me. I’m obsessed,” Hardwick said. “I firmly believe that it keeps me concentrated because
it keeps my mind off of food so I can focus on schoolwork.”