Making Sense of Scents: This Is How Smells Trigger Memories And Emotions!

in sirwinchester •  2 years ago 

Smells can trigger memories instantly - we've all experienced this.

When visiting your parents' house, the smell of a specific item or toy can take you back to that very moment in your childhood when you used to play with it - suddenly, you can remember all the details vividly!
Whether it's the smell of old books that remind you of your mom's bedtime stories, or the smell of a certain dish your grandma used to cook: smell trigger memories like no other of our senses.
This is called odor-evoked autobiographical memory: a certain smell can bring back detailed memories from the past, specifically from your childhood years.
Of course music, textures, tastes or visual clues can also trigger memories, but not quite like smells.

Why? How is our sense of smell different and why does it seem to be so connected with childhood memories?!


How we process smells

From our 5 senses vision, touch, taste, hearing and smell, smell is the only one which is managed differently by our brain.
All other senses are processed by our Thalamus, a brain region which then forwards the signal to the appropriate processing sensors.

But once a smell is detected by the receptors inside your nose, the signal directly travels to the so-called "olfactory bulb", which is the reason of our brain that analyzes smells.

It's conveniently located above our nasal cavities.
This olfactory bulb is connected to our Hippocampus and our Amygdala: these are the parts of our brain that processes memories and emotions!

Then WHY is our sense of smell so special?

Our sense of smell is actually much more important than most people think.
Smell is our oldest and most rudimentary sense, it has the longest evolutionary history since its roots can be found even in single-celled organisms.
This also explains why we can distinguish over 10,000 different smells (we just don't have names for all of them) and have 1,000 different types of smell receptors in our nose. In comparison, there are only four types of light sensors in our eyes and about 4 types of receptors for touch on our skin.


Smells and emotional memories

So there is a direct link between our sense of smell and our memories, which is not given with any other senses.
But smells don't just bring back any kind of memories - they are mostly from our childhood, before we were 10 years old.
And they are almost always connected with an emotional feeling - when smelling your grandma's dish, you might remember how you and your siblings used to play around grandma's house afterwards, or how you used to goof around at the table.

The memories are more perceptual rather than conceptual:

Smells trigger memories in combination with feelings, not facts.
So although certain smells might be an excellent way to bring back childhood memories, they probably won't help you memorize something for an exam.


Now that we know the theory and the biological process behind it, let's look at some experiments that have actually proven the connection between smells and memories.
4 years ago, a study from European psychologists conducted a study where they used fMRI brain scans to analyze this phenomenon.
The participants were presented with 20 different, specific scents like whiskey or garlic.
Then they identified the two smells which triggered the oldest positive emotion for each test subject.
Next was the brain scanning: The participants were now presented with their 2 individual smells, as well as the smells of flowers and citrus for control purposes.
They were also shown the names of the smells projected on to a screen as a verbal/visual cue.

Results: both types of triggers (vision and smell) activated parts of the brain associated with memories. But there was one key difference.

The verbal cues activated brain areas responsible for processing smells.
But when the subjects were exposed to the smells themselves, areas of our brain that process EMOTIONS were activated as well!

So in conclusion:

Smells are processed differently than any other sense, they are directly linked to the memory center of the brain. Certain smells can take us back to our childhood and are strongly connected to emotional memories!

What are some of your favorite smells that trigger certain childhood memories?

Images: 1, 2, 3, 4, Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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Amazing post ♤ Not only smells but music too.
This is a subconscious trigger that starts a neuron pattern trigger, which fires specific neurons to re create a given feel or vibe as you might say.
Btw i just started a blog edition I would love it if you can leave a topic for me to discuss on my post, as I will try to discuss user selected topics.
Cheers for the amazing post and steem on ^^

Thank you, I appreciate it!
Yes, music can trigger memories and emotions too. Crazy how these things are connected!

Excellent post, very well written and solidly researched. I look forward to your next article!

Thank you for your feedback, glad to hear that you liked it!

Yup another good one here sir... I can't remember yesterday, but I can remember watching cartoons as a child.

However smells do trigger many a memory!

Thank you!
And yes, it's sometimes funny how older memories can be mich more vivid than recent months.

Great Article. Thank you!

chuck approves.jpg

😬 thank you!

cool boss @sirwinchester , maybe next u can try luciddream

Thank you! I wrote a post about lucid dreaming a long time ago, maybe I will post an updated version!

The smell of the Christmas tree reminds me of my childhood!

Yes this is quite a popular combination of smell and memory, children just get so excited about Christmas that the memories are even more vivid !

"...they probably won't help you memorize something for an exam." well sh*t

😉 would've been worth a try!

Excellent research sirwinchester! I love the feeling you get from a smell bringing about a memory from long ago. I get that type of feeling even more strongly from hearing an old song that I haven't heard in forever. Have you done any research on how the brain responds to that?

Funny that you say that, yes I was actually torn between which topic to cover first, but I'll write a post about that in the future!

Awesome man looking forward to it! I love when a song takes me back to a specific place and time. Will be great to see your research on it.

Great one as usual, talking about scents feel free to check our new Steemian @dutchess and a very good friend of mine from NL, she is an expert in that area! Check her if you can @sirwinchester

Sure! 👍

I know they can. Every time I smell pasta, it brings me back to my grandmas house so many years ago. Thanks for the share and I started following you.

I know that feeling very well too!

Thank you for your comment and for the follow, appreciate it!

The human mind is strange.

Strange and fascinating!

I have also experienced things like that but didn't know the reason. Very informative.


Yes I think almost everybody knows this feeling - but it's interesting to know the scientific reasons behind it

It is crazy how sensory perception functions in the human brain. Many times have I heard a song that takes me back to a moment 20 years prior to when I was still a child. The funny thing is, I would have never remember that event on my own accord without the help of sensory perception. Now it is not say that there are not any negative consequences of sensory perception. Many times I have also seen things that have caused flashbacks to terrible moments in my childhood, but I guess everything has its own set of caveats.

I enjoyed reading this, Sometimes I smell someone wearing my grandmothers perfume and it always makes me happy to remember her. Same things with songs, I have this sesame street tune that can make me cry just as when I was a child and I want to listen to it over and over again if I hear it once. Our senses are amazing. Oh the magnificent brain.

Awesome post @sirwinchester very informatative

thats so true, a lot of smells from my childhood remind me of certain events! :D its amazing!

@sirwinchester Great work! i enjoy the reading.

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When I was a child I spent every summer on Present Island, Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada. There was a path that led from the water to the house. There was a smell that lingered along a very short section. Almost thirty years later I was searching properties to by. The one I purchase had that same smell and caused me to by it. Yep, can't help thinking just how wonderful the human body is.