How Aromas Influence Memory & Performance

how aromas influence memory and performance in sports settings.

Have you ever pondered the profound influence of scents on our memory and performance? While it may sound whimsical, there might be some truth to this! Everyday coaches and trainers employ various techniques, knowingly or unknowingly, to influence the brain. Amongst numerous methods ranging from mind games to SMARTGOALS, an intriguing technique emerges – harnessing the power of aromas.

Read more: How Aromas Influence Memory & Performance

The Intricate Brain-Scent Connection

Our brain is fascinatingly malleable when exposed to different fragrances. Past studies highlight an intimate link between memories and the sense of smell. Simply put, it’s why we can distinctly remember the aroma of apple pie from grandma’s kitchen. Some researchers suggest that our olfactory sense, closely tied to learning, could play a pivotal role in enhancing visual memory performance.

The Rat Experiments: A Fragrant Memory Boost

Through specific olfactory training, rats showed improvements in their spatial-visual learning. By harnessing their sense of smell, these rodents enhanced their visual memory. This sparked a curious thought among researchers: could the same be possible for humans?

Olofsson’s Intriguing Study on Scent & Memory

In a 2020 study, Olofsson and his team aimed to determine if aroma-based memory training could have positive effects on adult visual memory. Participants engaged in a ‘Scent Memory Game’, involving 24 cans filled with 12 varied aromatic teas. To limit visual identification, the aromas were placed in cotton bags, and the cans were randomly spread across a table. Players were tasked with matching cans based on identical aromas. In a subsequent experiment, visual memory was added to the mix with identical images on the cans. The primary objective? To gauge the number of attempts participants needed to correctly match all pairs.

Findings: The Dual Power of Sight & Smell

Olofsson’s study revealed that in the image-based task, participants solely relied on visual memory. However, in the scent-only task, both visual and olfactory memories came into play. Furthermore, previous scent training improved participants’ performance in distinguishing and naming scents.

Practical Implications: Beyond the Laboratory

I’ve been deeply engrossed in numerous studies on scents and memory, and Olofsson’s research further underscores the potential lying therein. While it might not be the secret sauce for championship victories, even a 1% improvement could be game-changing. Imagine conditioning players with the scent associated with the euphoria of a win. By introducing that aroma in the locker room, the exhilarating memories of past triumphs could be rekindled. While applying this strategy on the field might be challenging, indoor sports arenas could experiment with it.


There’s a realm of possibilities with scents, memories, and performance interwoven. Though my assumptions aren’t backed by scientific evidence in a sport-specific setting, the realm of olfactory science holds tantalizing prospects. Stay tuned for more insights on the intriguing relationship between scent, memory, and the brain!


Jonas K Olofsson, Ingrid Ekström, Joanna Lindström, Elmeri Syrjänen, Anna Stigsdotter-Neely, Lars Nyberg, Sara Jonsson, Maria Larsson, Smell-Based Memory Training: Evidence of Olfactory Learning and Transfer to the Visual Domain, Chemical Senses, Volume 45, Issue 7, September 2020, Pages 593–600, 

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