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Monday, September 04, 2006

Pinning down the possibility of scents enhancing athletic prowess

"Welcome to the nebulous world of aromatherapy, where, for a small price, you can, say its proponents, sniff yourself to a sharper mental state, which could lead to more productive workouts. But be wary, for this can be a realm populated by hobbits, trolls and fairy godmothers--more fiction than fact." -- Frank Claps, Training Scents, Men's Fitness, May, 2002.

Recent research by Alan Hirsch of The Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago found that bowlers who wore surgical masks impregnated with the aroma of jasmine knocked down 27 percent more pins than those who went scent free*! In a special to the Stamford Advocate picked up by my local newspaper, humorist Jerry Zezima, interviewed Hirsch, who speculated that jasmine counteracts the negative smells in bowling alleys -- smoke, sweaty socks, stale beer, spicy pizza and the like. Zezima's attempts to try reproducing this dubious aromatherapeutic effect provide a great lesson in how not to do an experiment. Here are the results:

-- Game #1, a "few pins" more with jasmine mask (alternated frame-by-frame with scentless) -- final score: 124.

-- Game #2, "much better" with beer sprinkled on scentless mask (vs jasmine) -- final score: 93.

I suppose one could say that Zezima's results go back to frame number 1, that is, they provide no confirmation of Hirsch's findings favoring jasmine. The reason all this caught my eye is that I am the author of tutorial on setting up a simple comparative bowling experiment: Design-Expert 7 Software General One-Factor Tutorial. However, I have no interest in applying better design of experiments (DOE) to this questionable effect of scents. The mask would get in the way of drinking my beers and talking with my bowling buddies. That's what's really important! Who cares about the score?

PS. Obviously I am not a very 'scents'itive fellow, so jasmine would be wasted on me. The sweaty socks are tolerable, but I do believe that eliminating smoking would definitely enhance the athletics and general healthiness of outings to the neighborhood alley.

*EFFECTS OF AROMA ON AMATEUR TEN-PIN BOWLING PERFORMANCE presented to Association for Chemoreception Sciences on April 30, 2006


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