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Chem Senses. 2001 Mar;26(3):239-45.

The influence of essential oils on human attention. I: alertness.

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  • 1Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Klinikum Grosshadern, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universit├Ąt, Marchioninistrasse 15, D-81377 Munich, Germany.


Scientific research on the effects of essential oils on human behavior lags behind the promises made by popular aromatherapy. Nearly all aspects of human behavior are closely linked to processes of attention, the basic level being that of alertness, which ranges from sleep to wakefulness. In our study we measured the influence of essential oils and components of essential oils [peppermint, jasmine, ylang-ylang, 1,8-cineole (in two different dosages) and menthol] on this core attentional function, which can be experimentally defined as speed of information processing. Substances were administered by inhalation; levels of alertness were assessed by measuring motor and reaction times in a reaction time paradigm. The performances of the six experimental groups receiving substances (n = 20 in four groups, n = 30 in two groups) were compared with those of corresponding control groups receiving water. Between-group analysis, i.e. comparisons between experimental groups and their respective control groups, mainly did not reach statistical significance. However, within-group analysis showed complex correlations between subjective evaluations of substances and objective performance, indicating that effects of essentials oils or their components on basic forms of attentional behavior are mainly psychological.

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