The aroma of the essential oil of peppermint could help to reduce aggressive driving behaviors, according to new research published in Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical & Experiment.
An essential oil is a concentrated liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants. These oils are typically obtained through distillation or other methods, such as solvent extraction or cold pressing. Essential oils are highly aromatic and are used in a variety of ways, including aromatherapy, perfumery, flavoring, and medicinal applications.
“I have been researching the effects of the aromas of essential oils on human behavior for twenty years,” said study author Mark Moss, the Head of the Department of Psychology at Northumbria University.
“My main interests have been focused on memory and mood but recently a student (Jasmine Ho) suggested that mood effects might impact in applied settings such as driving. As we have a virtual reality driving simulator in the department this seemed an interesting avenue to explore. We chose peppermint as a suitable aroma to explore as it has previously been shown to reduce sleepiness in drivers and also because it has a mild calming effect.”
For their study, the researchers recruited 50 participants through advertisement posts on social media websites and around a university campus in the UK. The participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions: peppermint aroma or control (no aroma). The study utilized the simulation software “City Car Driving” and presented the virtual reality driving scenario through an Oculus Rift VR headset. The participants completed a 5-minute practice period in the driving simulator before undergoing a 15-minute testing session.
The testing session aimed to create a driving experience that could trigger aggression in participants. This was achieved by including events such as sudden braking and lane-cutting without indication, which occurred randomly and equally for all participants. A total of 35 of these events were included in the virtual reality driving experience.
The researchers found that those in the peppermint aroma condition tended to exhibit fewer aggressive driving behaviors compared to those in the control condition. Aggressive driving behaviors included actions such as negative comments towards other drivers, violating stop signs or signals, braking abruptly or without cause, and following another vehicle too closely (tailgating), among other actions.
“The impact of aroma inhalation on human behavior is not particularly large but should not be overlooked,” Moss told PsyPost. “Aggressive driving is an aspect of human behavior that is becoming increasingly problematic and any intervention that might reduce it is of value. Many drivers use in car scent devices and it seems reasonable to employ ones that might improve driving behavior as well as being pleasant.”
But Moss noted that “there are a number of questions that the study leaves unanswered, such as how long the effect might last and how much aroma needs to be inhaled to be beneficial.”
“The driving simulation was quite short. What might happen on longer journeys? Does the aroma need to be present constantly or intermittently? It may be that intermittent dispersal might be more effective. The exact ‘dosage’ of the aroma is yet to be explored and does present many challenges due to variability in car dispersion devices, opening of windows (fresh air is also good for drivers), differences in cabin size, etc.”
“However, the general indication is that use of in-car aroma of peppermint can reduce aggressive responses to challenging driving situations,” Moss added. “It is certainly not the answer to inconsiderate driving but every little bit helps to improve road users experiences.”
“Aromas can be useful in a range of different areas of human experience, but they are not a panacea. The effects tend to be small but beneficial although there is quite a lot of variability between individuals and at the moment we don’t know why.”
The study, “Aroma of the essential oil of peppermint reduces aggressive driving behaviour in healthy adults“, was authored by Mark Moss, Jasmine Ho, Sophie Swinburne, and Anna Turner.