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A loaded coffee, an energy drink, a piece of chocolate or pine … All these are popular recommendations before an exam. The best advice, however, could be, simply, to breathe deeply.
That is the conclusion of a recent study led by Noam Sobel and Ofer Perl , from the Department of Neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute of Science. According to the results, published in Nature Human Behavior , people who inhaled when presented with a complex task obtained better results than those who exhaled in the same situation. The findings suggest that the olfactory system may have shaped the evolution of brain function well beyond the basic function of smelling.
“Even plants and bacteria can” smell “the molecules in their environment and react – explains Perl in a statement -. But terrestrial mammals smell when they breathe through their nasal passages and that information passes through the nerves to the brain. Some theories suggest that this sense helped in the development of other parts of the brain. That is, each additional sense evolved using the template that had previously established the sense of smell. From there arose the idea that inhaling could prepare the brain to assimilate new information to, basically, synchronize two processes. ”
This was the starting point of the study: try to demonstrate “that it is not only the olfactory system – adds Sobel – but the entire brain that is preparing to process new information when inhaling. We call this the olfactory brain. ”
To test their hypothesis, the researchers designed an experiment in which they could measure the flow of air through the nostrils of the subjects and, at the same time, present them with problems to solve. These included mathematical exercises, problems of spatial visualization (in which they had to decide if there could be a drawing of a three-dimensional figure in reality) and verbal tests (in which they had to decide if the words presented on the screen were real).
“One might think that the brain associates inhalation with oxygenation and, therefore, prepares itself to focus better on the test questions, but the time frame does not fit this,” Sobel concludes. About 200 milliseconds, long before oxygen reaches the brain from the lungs, our results show that not only the olfactory system is sensitive to inhalation and exhalation, but the entire brain. “