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Odors can be powerful stimulants. It is well-established that odors provide strong cues for recall of locations, people and events. The effects of specific scents on other cognitive functions are less well-established. We hypothesized that scents with different odor qualities will have a different effect on attention. To assess attention, we used Inter-Subject Correlation of the EEG because this metric is strongly modulated by attentional engagement with natural audiovisual stimuli.We predicted that scents known to be “energizing” would increase Inter-Subject Correlation during watching of videos as compared to “calming” scents. In a first experiment, we confirmed this for eucalyptol and linalool while participants watched animated autobiographical narratives. The result was replicated in a second experiment, but did not generalize to limonene, also considered an “energizing” odorant. In a third, double-blind experiment, we tested a battery of scents including single molecules, as well as mixtures, as participants watched various short video clips. We found a varying effect of odor on Inter-Subject Correlation across the various scents. This study provides a basis for reliably and reproducibly assessing effects of odors on brain activity. Future research is needed to further explore the effect of scent-based up-modulation in engagement on learning and memory performance. Educators, product developers and fragrance brands might also benefit from such objective neurophysiological measures.


This work was originally published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, available at

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