A. Allemeier, A. Grefsrud, A. Hensley, L. Ferris, W.M. Silvers

Whitworth University, Spokane, WA

Aromatherapy, or the use of essential oils derived from plants, was widely used by the ancient Chinese and Romans for a variety of physiology altering purposes. Modern use of aromatherapy has grown, especially in alternative medicine. Lavender oil is a popular essential oil used to reduce anxiety, decrease stress, and calm mood. PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of lavender oil inhalation on speed, accuracy, and heart rate (HR) when a timed Stroop test was performed. METHODS: Sixty-six healthy, college-aged (average age = 20.08 ± 2.00 years) males and females (nm = 17, nf = 49) performed incongruent Stroop tests under two scent conditions (lavender or control), in random order. Heart rate was monitored with a chest strap. Three drops of a 10 % lavender oil dilution in grapeseed oil were applied to a cotton pad taped under the participant’s nose. The scent condition was the independent variable and HR, speed, and accuracy were the dependent variables. Paired t-tests (significance level p ≤ 0.05) were used to determine the existence of statistically significant differences between scent conditions for each dependent variable. RESULTS: No statistically significant differences were observed between the lavender and control conditions for speed (control: 38.74 ± 8.55 s; lavender; 38.76 ± 9.63 s; p = 0.99), accuracy (control: 0.96 ± 0.04 %; lavender: 0.95 ± 0.05; p = 0.21), resting heart rate (control: 80.14 ± 11.71 bpm; lavender: 81.55 ± 13.95 bpm; p = 0.32), and peak heart rate (control: 96.54 ± 15.57 bpm; lavender: 98.82 ± 16.98 bpm; p = 0.18). CONCLUSION: Under the current research conditions, lavender inhalation did not impact cognitive performance or HR parameters. The primary explanation for the observed result was that inconsistencies in the testing environment, Stroop test administration, and mode of lavender delivery may have impacted speed and accuracy. Consequently, future research investigations should include more environmental controls. Also, a significant learning effect on speed and accuracy between testing sessions was observed (p = 0.00), which indicates that a more rigorous familiarization process should be used in future research. Lastly, when participants who disliked the scent of lavender were excluded, PHR approached statistical significance (p = 0.07). Future research investigations should include controls for perceived pleasantness of aroma. If the calming effects of lavender oil inhalation on cognitive performance are further confirmed, it is possible that lavender oil could be used to calm and focus athletes before stressful events.

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