A study conducted by the RAC Foundation suggests that while certain food smells can help a driver to remain focused, others can result in a lack of concentration.
"More than any other sense, the sense of smell circumnavigates the logical part of the brain and acts on the limbic and emotional systems. This is why the smell of baking bread can destroy the best intentions of a dieter," says Conrad King, the RAC Foundation's consultant psychologist, who conducted the research review.
Smell, intimately related to how human beings taste food, has long remained the most enigmatic of our senses. The average human nose can detect nearly 10,000 distinct scents, a feat that requires about 1,000 olfactory genes, or roughly 3 per cent of the human genome.
Last year Richard Axel and Linda Buck were awarded a joint Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their pioneering research on this mysterious sense.
The two scientists had jointly published a fundamental paper in which they described the large family of 1,000 olfactory genes, clarifying for the first time how our olfactory system works.
According to the study on driving and smells, conducted at the West Virginia Wheeling Jesuit University, the smell of fast food wrappers, fresh bread or pastry can cause driver irritability, a preponderance to speed and an increased chance of involvement in road rage, apparently because they all can make drivers feel hungry, and in a hurry to satiate their appetites.
Peppermint and cinnamon actually improved concentration levels as well as making drivers less irritable. Likewise lemon and coffee proved to be good for clear thinking and high concentration levels.