Page last updated at 09:13 GMT, Friday, 3 April 2009 10:13 UK

Lavender 'takes edge off horror'

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Lavender is known for its calming properties

Taking a deep sniff of lavender before you settle down for a horror film might stop you getting so scared - but only if you are a woman, a study has found.

Men should avoid the smell unless they crave a more unsettling experience, a paper being presented to the British Psychological Society suggests.

Volunteers were given either capsules containing lavender or a placebo.

Their physiological responses to neutral, scary and light-hearted film clips were then observed.

Women who took lavender had an increased heart rate variation - an indicator of a more relaxed state - during all three films.

Previous research has shown that inhaling essential oils takes them into the blood stream very effectively
Belinda Bradley
University of Central Lancashire

But men in fact displayed more symptoms of stress - including sweaty palms - during the scary film if they had taken a capsule containing lavender.

Ingesting rather than inhaling lavender was chosen as it would be impossible to provide a placebo if people could smell what they were taking, said lead researcher Belinda Bradley from the University of Central Lancashire.

"But previous research has shown that inhaling essential oils takes them into the blood stream very effectively, so we would expect similar results if lavender was smelt."

The reasons for the gender difference is unclear, but twice as many women are reported to suffer from anxiety than men.

Aromatherapy is rooted in the idea that certain fragrant smells can stimulate the limbic system - the emotion-related parts of the brain - causing changes in the function of the body and mind.

However its efficacy as a therapeutic tool is hotly debated.

This is not the first study to explore the relaxation effects of lavender.

Last year, researchers at King's College, London found the smell reduced anxiety in hundreds of patients awaiting dental treatment. They suggested it could be deployed in waiting rooms as an "on the spot" treatment.



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