The mysterious superpowers of lavender
Words by Georgie Sinclair
Illustrations by Gemma Pauwels
Our longstanding love affair with lavender
Lavender has long been associated with wellness. Coming from the latin term Lavera, to wash – its use can be dated back to the ancient Roman period when it was used as an ointment to perfume bath water. Today it is still attested by aromatherapists for its soothing properties, whom maintain a belief that it can attenuate fatigue, relieve stress and induce a sense of calm over those in its presence. But what are the consequences of our actions when we are less stressed? Does it have measurable results?
Well, yes. There is a growing body of research which claims that we are more likely to behave positively towards others when the presence of a pleasant fragrance is increased. A recent study carried out by Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition went one step further in exploring the distinct effects of certain scents on our emotions. The paper argues that the calming scent of lavender temporarily induces an ‘inclusive’ thinking state, unlocking a compartment of our mind that enables us to align our thoughts more closely to those around us.
How the study worked
The study was carried out on 90 healthy young adults who were invited to perform a simple behavioural exercise. They were split into same-sex pairs and directed into one of three cubicles, each fragranced with a different aroma, the first with lavender, the second with peppermint and the final contained no scent at all. One of the two participants was given €5, and it was up to that person whether they’d like to keep or partially transfer the €5 to the second. Both were informed prior to the exercise that the sum of the transferred money would be tripled, and it was up to the recipient of the transferred sum to decide if they’d like to distribute the money between them both.
More than just a pretty flower
The results of the study speak volumes for the way humans interpret and process social information. Averaging at €3.90, the participants in the lavender scented room transferred a greater sum of money compared to the participants in the other two cubicles which averaged at €3.20 and €3.23. Interestingly, and perhaps just a little bit disturbingly, the study reveals that our rationale for trusting or distrusting another person is remarkably volatile and can be shaped by forces external to the experiences we share person-to-person, mind-to-mind. None of the participants in the lavender scented room noticed the change in their mood, which means that their actions – triggered by the lavender scent – were acted upon unconsciously.
“The study reveals that our rationale for trusting or distrusting another person is remarkably volatile”
A signal for change
Further research in the field has found that our trust in one another has been steadily declining since the 1970s. Whilst this could be attributed to a range of social and political factors – unstable political leadership and the nasty influence of clickbait media and so on – the effect has left a marked impression in the civic realm. In the United States for instance, trust amongst the general public is at its all time lowest. According to the research carried out by our in-house futurologist, Jacintha Scheerder, this is a critical signal for change. Our declining trust in several institutions, governments and other senior figures could hold great influence for future connectedness. We must act on this.
“According to our in-house futurologist, Jacintha Scheerder, this is a critical signal for change”
An essential human quality
Indeed, our day-to-day experiences would be greatly improved if we were trust one another a little more. It’s an essential attribute of any healthy relationship and it’s the glue that binds communities. The evidence pointing to the benefits of interpersonal trust is staggering, with studies reporting reduced levels of corruption, crime, segregation and social inequality. So though this study may only speak for a snippet of our world problems, the results serve as a starting point for us to explore alternative ways to improve social cohesion using the fragrances of plants and flowers. A dash of lavender may not be able to move mountains, but it could certainly lend a hand.
Want to know more? You can read about the study in more detail here.