K. Downey,D. Harper, J. Sturtevant, J-R. Woolley, W.M. Silvers

Whitworth University, Spokane, WA

In recent years, there has been increased use of essential oils to treat various ailments or alter cognition. Inhalation of peppermint essential oil has been reported to provide relief from irritable bowel syndrome, nausea, tension headaches, and memory loss. The empirical evidence to support the effectiveness of peppermint essential oil on delayed free recall memory has been inconsistent. PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of peppermint essential oil on recall memory in undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) students. METHODS: Thirty-one male (n = 9) and female (n = 22) STEM students participated in this study. The participants’ delayed free recall memory was tested via recall of 15 words from the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT) lists. After participants entered the testing room, a 1 min acclimatization period was given while researchers reminded the participants of the procedures. The researchers read the word list aloud, and then the participants watched a 10 min video clip from the television show “The Office” with an assigned task, which served as a distraction. Subsequently, participants were given 1 min to recall as many words as possible, in any order. This protocol was used under both testing conditions: once with the presence of peppermint essential oil (P), and once without the presence of peppermint (C). A dependent groups t-test (significance level p≤ 0.05) was used to determine statistical significance. RESULTS: In the P trials, participants’ mean score was 6.2 ± 1.9 correct words and in the C trials, participants scored an average of 5.8 ± 2.1 correct words. No statistically significant difference was observed between P and C conditions (p > 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: In the present study, RAVLT scores did not significantly improve in the presence of peppermint aroma compared to control session scores. The primary explanation for the observed findings was an increased risk for Type II error due to the small sample size (n = 31) relative to similarly-designed aromatherapy studies. Further research is needed to investigate peppermint essential oil’s ability to enhance delayed free recall memory with a larger sample size.

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