A recent study from New York University1 published in Nature Scientific Reports found that doing pleasurable activities (like listening to music and smelling perfume) during mentally engaging tasks can improve cognitive performance.
Researchers measured cognitive performance using a working memory test called the n-back test. They asked participants to take this test while wearing a MINDWATCH device. MINDWATCH is a non-invasive wearable designed to measure electrodermal activity (EDA), blood pressure, body temperature, brain activity, and other physiological measures of focus.
Participants took the working memory test while exposed to pleasurable stimulants (music, coffee, and perfume), as well as without them.
The MINDWATCH algorithm determined the stimulants triggered increased “beta band” brain wave activity—a state associated with peak cognitive performance.
Researchers found that music had an even greater effect than caffeine, followed by perfume. They tested three types of music—energetic music, relaxing music, and AI-generated tones that fit participants’ preferences—and found that energetic music had the greatest effect.
This study suggests that simple pleasures such as surrounding yourself with favorable scents or enjoying some upbeat music while completing a task might help you maintain focus.