When I was in my last semester of undergrad school in 1988 (yes, I know I'm old) I had an Anthropology class in a large lecture hall. A particular woman in the class managed to drive me nuts because she REEKED of the original Liz Claiborne. Every class. The whole time. I never wore that particular fragrance, and I didn't think it was unpleasant or anything, until that class.This woman must have had a serious sinus problem in order to be able to endure the amounts of fragrance she wore. There were literally hundreds of people in the room and she managed to wilt every one of us. My nose used to itch, and I'd sneeze, and get a headache, and I literally DREADED the Anthropology class because her fragrance made me suffer. To this day, if I got a whiff of that fragrance I think I'd choke. I don't remember a darn thing about the class but I remember that stench.
Years later (around 1993?), my ex-husband and I were season ticket holders at a playhouse nearby. Because we were season ticket holders, we always had the same seats, and there was a lady who sat right in front of me who must have bathed in Youth Dew before each performance. After she bathed in it she sprayed a bottle on her body and in her hair and then she drank another bottle of it...(I'm exaggerating). The point is her fragrance was so gaggingly, sickeningly strong I couldn't concentrate. People all around would sneeze and sniff and wave their hands in front of their noses, but she never seemed to catch on. (Or she just plain didn't care whether people around her were suffering).
So, yes, I think fragrance can affect your ability to concentrate, and its imprint on your memory can probably last a lifetime. Scent memories that evoke really emotional times can be distracting, too. I think most of the distraction, however, comes from the amount of fragrance worn by many people who don't realize they may be immune to their own fragrance, so they overapply. Some people wear too much...another person should not be able to taste one's fragrance from 20 feet away...
I have asked to be moved to different tables in restaurants because I've been so distracted by someone's perfume or cologne. I guess I have a really sensitive nose, but what I smell affects my ability to taste, and if I'm tasting someone's Joy I'm not happy.
I had a three hour long literary criticism presentation last night (I'm a grad student) and I wore Ananas Fizz. I chose it purposely because it's a happy comfort scent that I'm not likely to associate with stress. I applied it courteously, I promise!