School Backs Peppermint for Student Alertness

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A middle school in Maryland is using a unique method to help kids do better on their tests. Not only is the principal urging them to get plenty of sleep, but also to chew on peppermint. The treat is said to help increase concentration.


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm John Ydstie.


And I'm Madeleine Brand. The kids at Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring, Maryland are at the end of eight long days of testing. Principal Charlotte Boucher tried to prepare her students for the No Child Left Behind testing the usual ways - study hard, get plenty of sleep - and she pushed some peppermint.

Ms. CHARLOTTE BOUCHER (Principal, Eastern Middle School, Silver Spring, Maryland): And we thought, well, that's perfect. It's an inexpensive treat. It's not messy. Nobody's allergic to it. You can have, you know, a small piece of peppermint in the middle of testing, and if it helps them concentrate, fine. And if it just makes them feel good and shows them that we love them, that's fine, too.

YDSTIE: That's right. She's taking those same little round breath mints you pocket after a meal at a Thai restaurant and she's handing them out to help the test takers focus, or maybe even stimulate their brains. Principal Boucher says she thought the idea was nonsense when it came up, too.

Ms. BOUCHER: Frankly, it sounded like, you know, aromatherapy as opposed to science.

BRAND: There could be a little science behind it. A study by the University of Cincinnati found that whiff of peppermint helps people taking tests concentrate during tasks that required sustained focus. But Doctor Charles Wysocki, whose title is olfactory neuroscientist - he's at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia - he doesn't put much faith in the power of peppermint.

Dr. CHARLES WYSOCKI (Olfactory Neuroscientist, Monell Chemical Senses Center): The idea that peppermint might rejuvenate people or make them more attentive has been around for some time. Unfortunately, it's in that area of urban legend more than good hard science.

YDSTIE: Doctor Wysocki says the peppermint studies were never reviewed and published in a medical journal. He says if those students do seem a bit more centered today, it might be because they feel a little extra attention has been placed on them. Aren't we always on our best behavior when we know we're being watched?

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