Rosemary For Remembrance: The Science Of Scent

"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance: pray you, love, remember." Ophelia in Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5

Researchers from the University of Northumbria presented their findings on scent and memory at the British Psychological Society’s 2013 conference. In the as yet unpublished paper, Jemma McCready and Dr. Mark Moss studied 66 participants to gauge the effect of rosemary on various types of memory. This study builds on Dr. Moss’s previously published work on scent, cognitive performance, and memory performed in 2003.

The earlier study was focused on both lavender and rosemary as olfactory contributors to cognitive function and memory. It showed that essential oils made of either lavender or rosemary elevated mood, but that rosemary seemed to have a positive effect on memory and cognition. By contrast, lavender had the reverse effect. Both scents, interestingly, caused subjects to slow the speed of their responses in comparison to that of the unscented control group.

In the new study McCready and Moss aimed to get specific with regard to rosemary’s impact on memory. As Ms. McCready stated in the presentation of the research, "Remembering when and where to go and for what reasons underpins everything we do - and we all suffer minor failings that can be frustrating and sometimes dangerous."

The memory improvement was demonstrated in participants’ ability to recall past events as well as prospective memory. Prospective memory is specifically defined as memory involving remembering to perform a specific action or intention at a planned time. The tasks are usually prevalent in a person’s daily round and can range from mundane to life-changing. Oft-forgotten tasks like sending a thank you note may not seem of great consequence, but not recalling to take a needed medication could be.

According to reportage in Britain’s Telegraph, the 2013 study showed the positive impact of rosemary was recorded regardless of subjects’ mood, which indicates the occurrence of a biochemical reaction from the scent. Dr. Moss told The Telegraph, "We focused on prospective memory, which involves the ability to remember events that will occur in the future and to remember to complete tasks at particular times this is critical for everyday functioning."

The research is of particular interest to those working with the elderly and those dealing with memory loss and dementia.
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