Fragrant Flashbacks

By: Victoria Dulemba

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Why I Chose This Topic:

I chose the subject of smell and memory because I find it very interesting how your smell can trigger previous memories in your brain. I also have friends who spray a particular perfume while they study for a test, and then when that test comes they spray that same perfume in hopes that it will help trigger their memory.

Smell and Memory:

Scent is very powerful and can trigger memories, for example: the smell of fresh baked pie can bring back childhood memories of spending time at your grandmother's house. This is because the olfactory nerve is located very close to the amygdala- which is linked to emotions and memory. Also, the olfactory nerve is closely located to the hippocampus, which is also connected to memory. Studies have shown that when areas of the brain that are associated with memory are impaired, the skill to identify smell is also damaged. Research has also shown that while studying information in the presence of a particular odor, it can increase the distinctness and power of that material when you smell the same odor again.

What Is Going On In the Brain?

Recent studies done at Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience have shown that waves in your brain cause odors to stick to your memory. The research found in this institute shows that the brain links scents to memory through a process where neutral networks are connected through synchronized brain waves of '20-40 Hz.'

What Parts of the Brain Are Being Used?

After an odor enters the nose, it is transported through the cranial nerve to the olfactory bulb. As a member of the limbic system, the olfactory bulb can easily enter the amygdala. The olfactory system also interacts with the hippocampus, which is crucial in developing memories. The close relationship between the olfactory nerve and the amygdala is the main reason for nostalgia when you smell a certain scent. No parts of the brain are failing, however, the olfactory system does not interact with more developed parts of the brain. There are no other theories on this topic.

The Research and Psychologist:

Catherine Sarah Young conducted an experiment to test if smells could truly bring back memories. In one case, she tested the smell of fresh air where one of the subjects could recall a memory of the smell of a place he had gone years ago just once! Young was amazed to find that some of the scents she tested brought out similar memories or reactions from different people. For example, tea tree oil, both associated the smell with winter and nature. No specific psychologist was listed for discovering olfactory memory.

Interesting Facts:

-Women generally have a stronger sense of smell than men

-You smell with your brain not your nose

-Most of your scent memories come from the first decade of your life

-Good smells make you happier

-Everyone has a unique odor identity or 'smell print'

-Our sense of smell is weakest in the morning

-The scent we smell feeds into the emotional areas of our brain much more directly than any other senses