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This Simple Habit Can Improve Focus & Concentration, Study Finds

Hannah Frye
Author:
August 18, 2023
Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
By Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.
woman typing
Image by Michela Ravasio / Stocksy
August 18, 2023

Relying on caffeine alone to keep you focused isn't going to be the best option, especially if you're trying to focus later in the day. Instead, a new study suggests a simple way to enhance concentration during your most important tasks—and it'll make them more enjoyable, too.

Simple pleasures may improve brain function

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 noninvasive 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. 

How to interpret these findings

This might come as a surprise to those who think they need to deprive their senses in order to get things done. But in fact, previous research shows that we are at our most productive when our arousal level is slightly elevated. When it's too low, we tend to become disengaged. Pleasant sensory stimuli could also help reduce stressors that tend to get in our way.

"The pandemic has impacted the mental well-being of many people across the globe, and now more than ever, there is a need to seamlessly monitor the negative impact of everyday stressors on one's cognitive function," Rose Faghih, Ph.D., senior author of the NYU study, said in a statement. "Right now, MINDWATCH is still under development, but our eventual goal is that it will contribute to technology that could allow any person to monitor his or her own brain cognitive arousal in real time, detecting moments of acute stress or cognitive disengagement, for example."

It's important to note that the stimulants used in this study should be complementary to other cognitively beneficial lifestyle habits, such as having a consistent sleep routine and exercising regularly.

The takeaway

A new study finds that pleasurable activities such as drinking coffee, listening to music, and smelling perfume can help to improve focus. Here, a few reasons you may be struggling to focus and more actionable tips

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