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  • Writer's pictureSarah M.

Smells that Conjure Forgotten Memories

I find it fascinating how smells bring back such vivid memories, of the weirdest things sometimes. Like cutting turnip takes me straight back to middle school or a certain scent in a specific spot in a certain building reminds me of a girl from my childhood. I can't even remember her name or any other detail about her then that she lived in the building next to me with her mother and they had come to Canada from Czechoslovakia.

Primarily smells act as a warning, telling us whether food is good to eat, or if the air around us is dangerous to breath. But smells can also tell us a lot more and occasionally they take us on a trip back in time.

And that's the thing, scent particles, in general, can revive memories that have been long forgotten.

But why do smells sometimes trigger powerful memories, and in a lot of cases; emotional ones?

The short answer is that the brain regions that juggle smells, memories and emotions are very much intertwined. In fact, the way that your sense of smell is wired to your brain is unique among your senses.

A scent is a chemical that floats in through the nose and into the brain, where the sensation is first processed into a form that's readable by the brain. Brain cells then carry that information to a tiny area of the brain, where emotions are processed, and then where learning and memory formation take place.

A number of behavioral studies have demonstrated that smells trigger more vivid emotional memories and are better at inducing that feeling of “being brought back in time” than images.

Scents are the only sensations that travel such a direct path to the emotional and memory centers of the brain.

Scents are special because they can bring back memories that might otherwise never be recalled.

Typically, when a person smells something that's connected to a meaningful (or any) event in their past, they will first have an emotional response to the sensation and then a memory might follow. But sometimes, the memory won't ever resurface; the person might feel the emotion of something that happened in the past but won't remember what they experienced. This sounds so fascinating to me.

So, the next time you're driven to tears by a whiff of particular scent or a wide smile spreads across your face after you smell something specific, you can thank, or blame, the way your brain organizes its information.

I hope your life is full of wonderful smells, good feels, and loving memories.

Do you have a specific scent that takes you back and reminds you of something or someone? I would love to hear all about it; please leave a comment or connect on Instagram.


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