Chocolate and Brain

Chocolate and Brain

The smell of chocolate increases theta brain waves, which triggers relaxation.

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Eating a bar of chocolate may cheer you up, but sniffing it calms you down, says a British psychologist. Among some food smells tested, only chocolate had a significant calming effect on the brain—and only real chocolate at that.

Neil Martin, a psychologist at Middlesex University in Enfield, asked 60 volunteers to sit in a "low-odor room", wearing goggles and headphones to block out other stimuli, while he wafted smells their way. He used EEG (electroencephalography) to record their brain waves as they sniffed.

Half the volunteers were treated to the odors of real foods, while the others made do with synthetic smells. The real foods included chocolate and coffee, as well as the less aromatic baked beans and rotting pork. But apart from chocolate, the smells had little effect on the subjects' "theta" brain wave, which is associated with attentiveness. Only chocolate reduced attentiveness. It caused a dip from the "no smell" control reading of 2.6 microvolts in the brain wave down to around 1.8 microvolts, Martin told a meeting of the British Psychological Society in London.

Chocolate connoisseurs might not be surprised that the scent of synthetic chocolate did not have the same relaxing effect as the real thing. "They may have thought it was chocolate," says Martin, "but not chocolate as they knew it."

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