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About Everything Wiki » Life » How smells awaken our memory

How smells awaken our memory

26 Jan 2024, 12:00, parser
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You smelled the familiar scent of cologne, and an image of a loved one who used similar perfumes immediately appeared in your head. The smell of pancakes reminded me of Sunday morning, when my favorite Disney cartoons were on TV, and my mother was cooking breakfast. And the scent of pine needles and tangerines revived warm memories of New Year's Eve.

Such vivid and emotionally intense images that arise in response to a smell are typical for most people.

The French novelist Marcel Proust described a similar experience in the book "Towards Swann": the smell of cakes made the hero feel a wave of pleasure and forget about the hardships of adulthood. He did not immediately understand where the pleasant experiences came from, and only after a while realized that the reason for everything was the memories of childhood.

And suddenly a memory popped up in front of me. This taste was the taste of a piece of madeleine, which Aunt Leonie treated me to on Sunday mornings in Combray, having previously soaked it in tea or in lime-blossom tincture when I came to her room to greet her. The sight of little madeleine did not evoke any memories in me before I tasted her.

M. Proust
Excerpt from the book "Towards Swann"

Because of these lines, the ability of smells to evoke memories has been called the Proust phenomenon. It is typical for all people and is directly related to how our brain works.

Why do smells evoke vivid memories

It's all about how our brain processes odors. When we inhale air, chemical molecules bind to receptors in the nose. Then information about them enters the olfactory bulb — a paired formation in the front of the brain — and goes further into the cerebral cortex, where it is recognized as a certain aroma.

Information from all the senses is transmitted in a similar way, but the sense of smell occupies a special place, since the primary processing of odors takes place R. S. Herz. The role of odor-evoked memory in psychological and physiological health / Brain Sciences in the brain structures responsible for emotions and memory.

The olfactory bulb has direct connections to the amygdala and hippocampus. The first structure is involved in the formation of emotions, especially anxiety and fear, the second is associated with memory, associative thinking and learning. That is why odors cause 1. S. Chu, J.J. Downes. Long live Proust: The odour‑cued autobiographical memory bump / Cognition
2. A. N. Miles, D. Berntsen. Odour‑induced mental time travel into the past and future: Do odour cues retain a unique link to our distant past? / Memory
3. J. Willander, M. Larsson. Olfaction and emotion: The case of autobiographical memory / Memory and Cognition
4. A. Arshamian, E. Iannilli, J. C. Gerber. The functional neuroanatomy of odor‑evoked autobiographical memories cued by odors and ords / Neuropsychologia
there are more emotional and positive memories than visual images or words.

Of course, the fragrance can also remind you of bad events. For example, in one experiment M. B. Toffolo, M. A. Smeets, M. A. van den Hout. Proust revisited: Odours as triggers of aversive memories / Cognition and Emotion it was the smell felt when watching an unpleasant movie that later evoked the most negative, exciting and detailed memories.

And yet, for the most part, fragrances resurrect R. S. Herz, J. Eliassen, et al. Neuroimaging evidence for the emotional potency of odor-evoked memory / Neuropsychologia pleasant pictures from the past, filled with nostalgia for happy times. And there is an opinion that this can have a good effect on health.

How pleasant smells can improve health

Because familiar scents evoke a strong emotional reaction, they can work as an antistress.

For peace of mind and good mood, it is often advised to listen to music, but smells associated with positive memories cause C. A. Reid, J. D. Green, et al. Scent‑evoked nostalgia / Memory twice as strong reaction as listening to tracks.

In one experiment, we found Y. Masaoka, H. Sugiyama, et al. Slow breathing and emotions associated with odor-induced autobiographical memories / Chemical Senses that when people feel the fragrance associated with autobiographical memories, they breathe more deeply, slowly and relaxed. Moreover, the more anxious a person is, the better the familiar smell affects him.

Another study found that scents associated with memories not only give M. Matsunaga, T. Isowa, et al. Psychological and physiological responses to odor‑evoked autobiographic memory / Neuroendocrinology Letters positive emotions, a sense of comfort and happiness, but can also reduce M. Matsunaga, Y. Bai, et al. Brain-immune interaction accompanying odor-evoked autobiographic memory / PLoS One the level of inflammation in the body. For example, smells can also help in the fight against addiction. In one experiment, familiar scents associated with pleasant memories helped M. A. Sayette, D. J. Parrott. Effects of olfactory stimuli on urge reduction in smokers / Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology smokers reduce their cravings for cigarettes.

So if you know which smells cause a rush of nostalgic feelings, try using them as a stress medicine. Just do not overdo it: the nose quickly gets used to the flavors, and with constant use, the method may lose its effectiveness.

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