Wheeling Jesuit University

Wheeling Jesuit Student Finds Link Between Behavior and Odors

With Christmas fast approaching, the air is filled with the holiday scents of candy canes and baked goods. But one Wheeling Jesuit University student is finding that peppermint, cinnamon and other scents can actually enhance perception, memory and other cognitive functions.

Phillip Zoladz, a senior psychology major at Wheeling Jesuit University, is working on his senior thesis, "Impact of the Chemical Senses on Augmenting Memory, Attention, Reaction Time, Problem Solving and Response Variability: The Differential Role of Retronasal Versus Orthonasal Odorant Administration."

Through his study, Zoladz is finding that certain odorants can actually affect cognitive functions such as concept formation, reasoning, problem solving, judgment, memory and attention span.

The first phase of his research is an assessment of odors administered orally, or retronasally, on the cognitive performance of individuals.

Participants completed cognitive tasks while chewing peppermint-, cinnamon- and cherry-flavored gums. Zoladz also included a flavorless gum and a “no gum” control to study and compare the effects of chewing and gum flavor.

To assess participants’ cognitive performance, he used Impact, a computer program that assesses cognitive functions such as word discrimination, verbal and design memory, attention span, reaction time and problem solving through neuropsychological testing.

Results revealed trends suggesting that cinnamon administered via the mouth has the potential to enhance virtual recognition memory and attentional processes, and all flavored gums may enhance both working memory and visual-motor response speed.

In phase two of the project, Zoladz is studying how odors detected by the nose affect cognitive performance. Participants completed cognitive tasks while being exposed to peppermint, jasmine and cinnamon fragrance oils, as well as a “no odor” control.

Participants completed both pre- and post-test mood assessments. During the experiment, they were connected to an oxygen tank, and Zoladz added one of the three scented oils or the “no odor” control, which the participants inhaled through a nasal cannula.

While being exposed to the odorants, the participants worked through the Impact program. After completing the program, participants did a post-test assessment of the perceived workload for the cognitive tasks.

Although data analyses have not been finished, Zoladz hypothesizes that the cinnamon and peppermint odorants inhaled through the nose, or orthonasally, enhanced the cognitive performance of participants.

He hopes his research will assist in decision-making by individuals in stressful situations, cognitive functioning of the elderly and standardized test performance of students.

“Finding a non-pharmacological adjunct to the enhancement of cognitive performance in humans would be both groundbreaking and readily accepted by society,” Zoladz says.

Zoladz was recently awarded a $1,010 undergraduate research grant from Psi Chi, the national psychology honor society. As part of a national research competition, Psi Chi awards approximately 16 undergraduate research grants each year to help students with research expenses.

“It is an honor to be chosen for this award because it highlights the applicability of my thesis to the real world and its potential to become a step toward resolving some major problems facing the world today,” Zoladz says.

His is the second student grant from Psi Chi for Wheeling Jesuit’s psychology department. Nathan Corley received a grant in 2001 for his project, "The Effects of Odor Administration on Personal Characteristic Ratings."

As head research assistant for Bryan Raudenbush, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology, Zoladz has engaged in a number of studies involving the physiology underlying human behavior. These studies have shown that peppermint and jasmine odors have significant effects on humans.

“Phil has done an outstanding job of going "above and beyond" what would be expected for a typical senior thesis, and he is an excellent example of a student who embraces the Jesuit values of improving the human condition,” says Raudenbush.

“The primary goal of his study was to find non-pharmacological ways of improving cognitive functioning. Many people could benefit from Phil's research, such as those suffering test anxiety, the sleep deprived, those with memory or attentional defects, and even Alzheimer's patients.”

Zoladz, a Belmont, Ohio native, plans to enter a doctoral program in cognitive neuroscience after graduation, with the ultimate goal of becoming a professor and researcher at a university known for its research efforts.

U.S. News & World Report ranks Wheeling Jesuit University 16th in the "Best Master’s Universities in the South," making it the highest ranked institution in West Virginia for the seventh consecutive year. The 65-acre campus located in Wheeling, W.Va., offers more than 30 undergraduate programs of study and six graduate degrees to about 1,500 students each year. Wheeling Jesuit -- the only Catholic institution of higher education in West Virginia -- has a student-to-faculty ratio of 13 to 1 and has 15 intercollegiate NCAA Division II athletic teams. The University's outstanding facilities include 15 modern buildings and residence halls, a 100,000 square-foot recreation center and a new $1.5 million soccer/track and field complex. The campus is home to the Robert C. Byrd National Technology Transfer Center, the Erma Ora Byrd Center for Educational Technologies, a Challenger Learning Center and the Clifford M. Lewis Appalachian Institute.

To arrange a visit of the Wheeling Jesuit University campus, or to apply, call 1-800-624-6992 or e-mail admiss@wju.edu or visit Wheeling Jesuit online at www.wju.edu.

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