Turning Scents into Sense and Schooling by Smiling: The use of Sensual and Sentimental cues to Enhance Student Retention of in-class Learning

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Conference Track

Marketing Education/ The Dynamic Business School

Publication Date



Emotional states play an important role in memory. Emotions can be triggered by external cues that stimulate our senses. Research has shown that some of the strongest memories can be triggered by scents. Despite olfactory neurons decay in 60 days, the memory is able to remember associated experiences long afterwards. Of the senses, smell takes the longest for the body to form a reaction. Strong emotional responses, such as fear, happiness, and sexual arousal have been shown to increase memory. In an effort to increase memory retention of in-class learning, as measured through performance on exams, attempts to collective influence the emotional responses of students were tested. The emotional state of any group of individuals initially coming into a setting, such as a classroom will be varied. Two different methods were used to stimulate a positive disposition at the beginning of the class period. Some students were exposed to pleasing scents in the classroom. In separate classes students were encouraged to smile using a happiness scale to indicate their mood. For each baselines of student performance were established as a point of comparison. Two hypotheses were tested related to the different circumstances. H1: Students exposed to pleasing scents during in-class learning will perform better on performance measures (exams) than students not exposed to pleasing scents. And, H2: Students that indicate they are in a positive mood while in class will perform better on performance measures (exams) than students that do not indicate having a positive mood in the same class. In the first experiment using scent, through the first exam the students were not exposed to scents. The same exams given in a previous semester of the same course was given for comparison of anomalies that might exist in the delivery of the course across and within semesters. For the class periods between the first exam and the fourth exam, students were exposed to a subtle, pleasant scent in the classroom. For the fourth, the last exam of the semester, the scent was not present in the classroom. The average grade for the first and the fourth exams, when scents were not present, were comparable to previous semester’s averages. The average grades for the second and third exams, when scents were present, were 8.5% higher on average than the other exams. This would indicate that the scent exposure did make a difference. In the second experiment attempts to positively influence mood were used through suggestive language and action. The first day of class students completed a short survey using established scales to quantify their general happiness. Students were asked at the beginning and ending of each session to indicate the “Happiness” using a five point happiness scale. This provided a daily indicator of mood and any change of mood across the 90 minute class. Students who were the least happy at the end of the class on average were the students who had the least positive change in their mood from the beginning of the class to the end of the class each day. These students also performed better on average across the four exams. These experiments would indicate that the use of pleasant scents have a positive effect on students’ abilities to retain information, as measured by test performance. Unexpectantly, students whose moods were least positive and whose moods were least changed during class exceeded their peers in test performance.

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Digital Commons@Georgia Southern License

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