The smell of chlorine fills the air, and suddenly, memories of your childhood spent in the swimming pool come flashing through your mind. Or maybe it's the scent of the perfume that your grandma used to wear that makes you remember all the good times you spent with her.
That's the power of smell, based on the nose's ability to sniffle out nostalgia.
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Whether good or bad, certain smells have a way of taking your mind back in time to specific moments of your life. While all your senses are connected to memory, the sense of smell particularly stimulates a burst of emotive memories. Read on to learn more about how smell works in bringing back good memories.
Why Do Smells Trigger Memory?
A study published in Progress in Neurobiology explores the power of smell in bringing back memories. The findings suggest that this comes from the link between the hippocampus and the olfactory system.
The hippocampus is part of the limbic system and serves the most primitive aspects of the brain. These include pain, pleasure, motivation, and memory. In addition, it influences your ability to form new memories while acting as a temporary storage and command center for organizing those memories.
The study further delves into the relationship between the olfactory system and memory. Christina Zelano, the lead researcher in the study, and the rest of the research team set out to better understand the profound role of smelling in connecting people to their memories.
With the help of intracranial and neuroimaging procedures, the team directly compared how the hippocampus functions across the sensory system. The comparison revealed that the olfactory system is more strongly connected to the hippocampus network at rest than the senses of sound, sights, taste, and touch.
The Scent-Brain Connection
This connection means that the sense of smell is a crucial survival tool. For example, people constantly monitor the air around them, directly sending information to the nervous system.
After smell reaches the nose, it travels through the olfactory bulb through the cranial nerve that handles smells. The olfactory system is the brain's emotional center that handles emotional memories.
The olfactory is strongly connected to the amygdala, responsible for processing positive and negative emotions. The close relationship between the olfactory and amygdala is why smells bring back strong memories.
According to Zelano, the concept is fascinating yet under-appreciated. The sense of smell is the oldest sensory system if evolution is anything to go by. It's also the one located in the brain's depth. The system is complex, characterized by many parallel paths that deliver odor information simultaneously to many areas of the brain. It happens milliseconds after you sniff, a powerful sensory ability crucial for human existence and experience.
What the Study Reveals
The sense of smell is powerfully connected to memory. Studies show that odor is a more potent activator than any other sensory cues for bringing back meaningful memories.
Smell and emotion have a strong connection because they both can remain stored in the brain for years. Scents used to soothe children can help them relax and alleviate stress long into adulthood. Scents that trigger anger and sadness also have a way of finding a home in the brain for years to come.
The study shows that you can also use smell to assess complex aspects of your surroundings quickly. For example, good and bad smells can guide what you eat, where you go, or who you're comfortable or at ease with. Again, memory is a crucial component of all these decisions and more.
A Specific Type of Memory
In another study in The American Journal of Psychology, researchers found that memories related to smells are not necessarily more accurate. They only tend to evoke more emotion. Episodic memories or those associated with specific events are best connected to memories.
The study also identified another type of memory called associative memory, which can work for any sense, including smell. Imagine yourself relaxing in a hot vanilla-scented bubble bath at the end of the day. Your mind associates the smell of vanilla with relaxation. Over time, you will still have that feeling of being relaxed when you smell vanilla, whether you're in a bath or not.
How to Harness the Power of Scent
From the various studies highlighted above, it's evident that odors can trigger good memories. This factor augments your ability to recall information. During the pandemic, questions arose about whether a loss of the sense of smell in infection survivors could hypothetically lead to memory issues. No specific pre-COVID studies exist to establish the correlation between memory and loss of smell.
However, one obvious thing is that olfactory decline correlates with cognitive impairments. It's because the primary structures involved in olfaction can lose their function when the neurodegenerative disease is present. Loss of smell may mean that it will be hard to revive olfactory memories or form new ones.
Many of your odor-driven memories may come from your childhood. Remember, it's the time in your life when you experience most smells for the first time. Still, there's no research to suggest that you can tap into this correlation between scents and memories to help you prepare for exams or remember where you put your car key as an adult.
BluntPower Air Freshener for Beautiful Memories
All of this doesn't water down the impact of smell in bringing back good memories. Since smell plays a crucial role in human psychological makeup, its absence can profoundly affect it. People with a loss of smell talk of feeling isolated and cut off from the world around them.
At BluntPower, we want to help you to connect with the world around you and create memories that will last a lifetime through the sense of smell. That's why we bring you our best-selling air fresheners and odor eliminators to help you create the memories you desire. For example, what about you spraying BluntPower's "Ocean Breeze" to relaxing beach memories?