The sense of smell is the most powerful of our senses, and it is tied to memory and emotion. Fragrances play a huge role in controlling moods, they evoke particular memories; they can bring on a flood of memories. Smells can bring on memories and powerful feelings. The smell of salty air brings most of us back to that time spent by the Ocean; a particular perfume reminds us of our mother or grandmother.
“Nothing is more memorable than a smell.
One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains; another, a moonlit beach; a third, a family dinner of pot roast and sweet potatoes during a myrtle-mad August in a Midwestern town.” ~ Diane Ackerman
The first basic response is either “like” or “dislike”- a hedonic emotional response. After being paired with an emotionally meaningful event, a previously neutral odor can reactivate the original event, such that when later encountered the odor itself elicits the emotions that were originally paired with it, along with the consequent cognitive, behavioral, and physiological sequelae of those emotions (Herz, Beland, and Hellerstein 2004; Herz, Schankler, and Beland 2004; Herz 2007, 2009a).
What parts of the brain are activated by these triggers? Eichenbaum, director of the Laboratory of Cognitive Neurobiology (Boston University) explained it:
After a smell enters the nose, it travels through the cranial nerve through the olfactory bulb, which helps the brain process smells. The olfactory bulb is part of the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. As a member of the limbic system, the olfactory bulb can easily access the amygdala, which plays a role in emotional memories (it’s also where the “fight or flight” reflex comes from).
Olfactory has a strong input into the amygdala, which process emotions. The kind of memories that it evokes are good and they are more powerful.
What smells do you associate with your best memories?
Herz R. S. Aromatherapy facts and fictions: A scientific analysis of olfactory effects on mood, physiology and behavior. International Journal of Neuroscience. 2009a;119:263–90.
Herz R. S., Schankler C., Beland S. Olfaction, emotion and associative learning: Effects on motivated behavior. Motivation and Emotion. 2004;28:363–83.