Aromas And Brain Waves

Viti Vinci 05/02/2023

Fragrances affect our psychological and physiological conditions, directly and indirectly. Electroencephalograph studies show that fragrances modulate brain wave activity and are responsible for various changes and states of the brain.

But first, let’s get into what a fragrance is. A fragrance consists of volatile chemicals that we perceive through our olfactory system. We actually have 300 active olfactory receptor genes! This system plays a huge role in the physiological effects of mood, stress, social behaviour, and working capacity.

In several studies, an electroencephalograph was used to measure our brain activity, this is, the different brain waves (delta, theta, alpha, beta, and gamma).  These waves appear during both the active and the resting states of our brain.

  1. delta: non-rapid eye movement sleep (dreamless sleep). Lowest frequency.
  2. theta: drowsiness, daydreaming, creative and imaginative thinking.
  3. alpha: calmness.
  4. beta: alertness, focused mental activity.
  5. gamma: bigger attentional focus, memory management, expanded consciousness, spiritual emergence, and hypnotic states.

Aromas have the ability to interact and affect the central nervous system and highly influence our mental and physical conditions. For example, lemon aroma increases theta waves; eucalyptus oil increases alpha waves; mentha arvensis EO from aerial parts increased alpha waves and decreased gramma waves, reducing mental stress; rosemary decreases alpha and beta waves and increased alertness. *In all studies, women were more sensitive to these changes than men.

Emotions are thought to appear with alpha waves, and so, aromas like bergamot or lavender can help induce the brain to drop from beta or gamma to alpha and be of a more a positive mindset. If what you seek is alertness and focus, essential oils like basil, rosemary or black pepper are your friend, as they help promote beta waves.

Japanese researchers found that inhaling lavender and sandalwood essential oils increase alpha waves (relaxation), and inhaling jasmine essential oil increases beta waves (alertness, anxiety), an effect similar to coffee. On the other hand, the essential oil from the seeds of Ziziphus jujuba (Chinese date or jujube) was found to help induce gamma waves.

On a fun note, the smell of baked bread can increase feelings of well-being and prompt us to spend more! There’s still a lot of research to be done, but these recent studies have opened a new line of investigations that link aromas and brain activity.

And since Valentines is just around the corner, I gave myself permission to go in a little further on the “brain science” behind love. Love can be categorized into lust, attraction, and attachment, each one of them with their own particular set of hormones.

Lust is driven by testosterone and estrogen (produced in the testes and ovaries) and it stems from our biological need to reproduce. These hormones are found both in females and males, just in different quantities.

Attraction is driven by dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin (produced in the brain) and it involves the brain pathways that control “reward” behaviour, which partly explains why the first weeks or months of a relationship can be so thrilling. Dopamine and norepinephrine make us energetic and euphoric and can decrease appetite and sleep. Serotonin, on the other hand, is found to be reduced. Actually, people who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder have low levels of serotonin, which leads to speculate that this is the reason why the beginning stages of love are characterized by overpowering infatuation.

Attachment is driven by oxytocin and vasopressin (produced in the brain) and it’s the predominant factor in long-term relationships. You can find attachment not only in romantic relationships, but also in friendships, parent-infant bonding, social cordiality, human-pet bonding, etc. Oxytocin, nicknamed “cuddle hormone”, is released in large quantities during sex, breastfeeding, and childbirth, all activities precursors to bonding. Vasopressin, in the other hand, is associated with vigilance and behaviours needed for guarding a partner or territory.

But don’t be fooled, not all these hormones make us happy and in love. As a matter of fact, dopamine is responsible not only of our virtues but also our vices; it is the prime reason behind addictions and too much of it can cause irrational behaviour, adultery, and jealousy.

There is actually a triangular theory of love, where if one of these three categories is higher than the other, a relationship completely changes its motion. Robert Sternberg defines three components of love: intimacy (attraction), passion (lust) and commitment (attachment), resulting in:

– liking: intimacy

– companionate: intimacy + commitment

– empty love: commitment

– fatuous love: passion + commitment

– infatuation: passion

– romantic love: passion + intimacy

– consummate love: intimacy + passion + commitment

As you can see, there are multiple types of love. Make sure to cultivate love in whichever form makes you happier and fits better in your life! Whether that’s with a friend, a co-worker, a pet, a family member, or a romantic partner.

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