Effect of Odour and Lighting Intensity on Memory Recall

Galindez, Dale Gilbert
Varela, Sebastian Franco
Yarte, Sonja Lynn
Zaidem, Arwin Alexis

The Effect of Intensity of Odor and Lighting of Environment to Memory Recall

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The principle of encoding specificity has been a key factor for memory recall. It has been found that a person has a higher chance of retrieving an information if they are in the same place where they have encoded the information (Tulving and Thomson, 1973). However, even if a person is in the exact place where he encoded the information, there are factors that should be considered to make the principle of encoding specificity stronger.

A key factor would be attention. Attention usually refers to concentration on a particular aspect of the external environment, although it is possible to attend to one’s own thoughts and other internal states. The essence of the typical use of the term is captured in a statement by 19th century German physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz, who noted that an observer who is steadily gazing at a fixation mark can, at the same time, concentrate attention on any given part of the visual field. The point in space, to which one is directing one’s eyes and the point to which one is attending to, thus are not necessarily the same, and one does not have to move the eyes to shift visual attention (Chastain, 2014).

Another would be state-dependent memory. A person is more likely to retrieve an information if he is back in the original state when he first encoded the information. An example would be if a person consumed a substantial amount of alcohol when they learned a certain information. There is a higher probability for the person to remember the same information if he is to consume the same substantial amount of alcohol compared to trying to remember the information without consuming alcohol at all.

If those two factors are important in memory recall, then the reduction or removal of either factors will make encoding specificity significantly weaker. In that case, we, the researchers, plan on testing whether intensity of odor and lighting of the environment will have a significant effect to memory recall.

Because of these two factors that affect memory recall, we have formulated questions which we intend to study about. We question if the intensity of odor alone will have a significant effect to memory recall. We also question if the lighting of an environment alone will have a significant effect to memory recall. Finally, we also question if both the intensity of odor and lighting of the environment will have a significant effect to memory recall

We have formulated three hypotheses that will answer our research questions. We believe that the intensity of odor will have a significant effect to memory recall. We also believe that the lighting of the environment will have a significant effect to memory recall. Lastly, we believe that the intensity of odor and lighting of the environment will have a significant effect to memory recall.

Literature Review

After the study has been done by Tulving and Thomson in 1973, many people questioned that the validity of the study seemed more correlational than causational. Because of these uncertainties, many studies were done after the original study.

Pointer and Bond (1998) used the same principle but it was focused on the context-dependent memory. The study was done by having the participants remember a passage which was previously chunked for 21 times. The paper in which the passage was printed was scented with peppermint, and was colored bright yellow. Then, the researchers measured how many chunks the participants were able to remember after they were made to answer a word search puzzle. A half or a full point was given to the participants for every right chunk they gave. It was found out that context-dependent memory is present in the olfactory cue, but not in the visual cue.

Another study based from the original study was “Encoding Specificity Manipulations do Affect Retrieval from Memory” (Zeelenberg, 2005). The study describes two kinds of errors people may make with regards to memory. One is errors of omission wherein people fail to retrieve information in their memory and the other one is errors of commission wherein people retrieve information that did not actually happen. This study focuses and questions the idea of how people report what they have retrieved. The study mainly points out that what the participants have retrieved, whether right or wrong, is not necessarily what they report. Participants in an encoding specificity experiment may actually have retrieved the right words but due to their lack of confidence and in an attempt to reduce the number of mistakes they might commit, they do not report what they have retrieved.

Due to the experimenters’ awareness that errors like this may affect their results, the method they used were the presentation of a target word, which the participants should retrieve. However, this target word had two cue words, which were presented to the participants, were something that they could use as retrieval cues.

Another study, Age differences in encoding specificity (Puglisi JT et al, 1988) focuses on how the encoding specificity ability of people are affected by age. In their experiment, participants were divided into 2 groups; the first were a group of young adults who had an average age of 19.2, and the second group were old adults with an average age of 71.4. The study task presented had targets and retrieval cues that had either a strong or a weak semantic relationship. Additionally, cues presented at recall were either the same as or different from those presented at encoding, resulting in four encoding cues—retrieval cue combinations: (a) strong encoding cue and (same) strong retrieval cue; (b) weak encoding cue and (same) weak retrieval cue; (c) weak encoding cue and (different) strong retrieval cue; (d) strong encoding cue and (different) weak retrieval cue. (Puglisi JT et al, 1988). Participants were able to recall the target words better when cues at encoding were the same when it was presented to them at retrieval, as compared to participants whose cues in encoding were different in retrieval.

They found out however, that when old adults were under divided attention when received verbal cues, there was more evidence of general encoding rather than encoding specificity.

Moss’ study, “Modulation of cognitive performance and mood by aromas of peppermint and ylang-ylang” focuses on how the aromas of peppermint and ylang-ylang oils help in the cognitive performance of people. Their cognitive performances were measured using the Cognitive Drug Research Computerized Assessment System. One group of participants were exposed to the aromas of peppermint and another one was exposed to the aroma of ylang-ylang. There was also a control group, in which there was no exposure to any kind of aroma. The results showed that the group that was exposed to the ylang-ylang had better cognitive performance than the control group while the group that was exposed to the peppermint scent did not have a significant difference to the cognitive performance of those in the control group.


Chastain, G. (2014). Attention. Salem Press Encyclopedia Of Health,

Miles, C., & Jenkins, R. (2000). Recency and suffix effects with immediate recall of olfactory stimuli. Memory, 8(3), 195-205. doi:10.1080/096582100387605

Moss, M., Hewitt, S., Moss, L., & Wesnes, K. (2008). Modulation of cognitive performance and mood by aromas of peppermint and ylang-ylang. The International Journal Of Neuroscience, 118(1), 59-77.

Puglisi, J., Park, D., Smith, A., & Dudley, W. (1988). Age Differences in Encoding Specificity.Journal of Gerontology, P145-P150.

Pointer, S. C., & Bond, N. W. (1998). Context-dependent memory: colour versus odour.Chemical Senses, 23(3), 359-362.

Tulving, E., & Thomson, D. M. (1973). Encoding specificity and retrieval processes inepisodic memory. Psychological Review, 80(5), 352-373. doi:10.1037/h0020071

Zeelenberg, R. (2004). Encoding specificity manipulations do affect retrieval frommemory. Acta Psychologica, 107-121.

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