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Ah, the scent of Play-doh! You are immediately transported back to your childhood, trying to make a clown that looked deceptively easy on the label, but is slowly but surely morphing into the ghost from “Ghostbusters.” Or the scent of the fuzzy peach eau de toilette, and you are back at the Body Shop, trying on an assortment of scents with your teenage friends. What is it about a smell that can evoke so many memories? Whether it be your Grandma’s apple cobbler or your scratch and sniff stickers, scents can take trigger some of the strongest emotional connections of any of the five senses. Why is that? Let’s take a look at how scents can unsurface great memories.
Odor-Evoked Autobiographical Memory
Otherwise known as “the Proust phenomenon,” “odor-evoked autobiographical memory” refers to the strange ability of the sense of smells to serve as effective reminders of past experiences. One explanation for this may be the way the brain processes memories and odors. Smells are routed through the olfactory bulb, which is the region of the brain responsible for analyzing odors. The fact that this region is closely connected to your amygdala and hippocampus, the regions that handle memory and emotion, may explain why scents get tied so closely to memories in your brain. The visual, tactile and auditory information does not pass through these areas.
Why Memories From Scents are Stronger Than Those From Other Senses
Another reason why scents tend to trigger strong memories may be because your body contains more smell receptors than it does for other senses.
In addition, memories stimulated by odors tend to be from the first decade of life, in which more poignant memories tended to be formed, whereas, verbal and visual memories tended to stem from young adulthood, which tended to be “thought of less often.”
Smells Trigger Fear
In addition to pleasant memories, odors have also been shown to trigger fear. It is thought that a mother’s fear can be passed on to her children through scent. One study consisting of female rats conditioned to fear the smell of peppermint before pregnancy showed that infants can learn about threats from their mothers. The newborn rats feared the smell even when their mothers weren’t there.
Effectiveness Of Aromatherapy
Because smells are known to trigger such emotional response, it seems to make sense that certain emotional responses can be provoked by certain smells, hence a stung case for the effectiveness of aromatherapy. Here are a few interesting aroma therapeutical facts.
A review of controlled trial shows that most certain aromas were able to quell anxiety in most participants.Individuals who have received bergamot oil aromatherapy before surgery demonstrated less preoperative anxiety Sweet orange oil has been shown to have tranquilizing properties Odors of lavender and orange were shown to improve mood and reduce anxiety in patients awaiting dental treatment.
Other potential uses for aromatherapy include:
- Green Apple to treat a migraine
- Peppermint to enhance memory and increase alertness
- A blend of ginger spearmint, peppermint, and lavender to relieve nausea and vomiting after an operation.
- Lavender to lessen pain after needle injections
What smells trigger your memories? Would we love to know? Drop us a line and let us know what your nose knows.