The Aroma of Nostalgia: How Smell Affects Memory

You’re walking through your neighborhood when a cloud of smoke wafts out of a backyard. The smell of grilled meats and vegetables fills your nostrils, and suddenly your head is filled with memories of summer BBQs long past.

Our brains and bodies work together in fascinating ways. One of those ways is how memory and our sense of smell are so closely linked. Indeed, smells have a stronger connection to our memories than any other sense. This flood of memories in response to an odor is sometimes referred to as an “odor-evoked autobiographical memory.” Others call it the Proust phenomenon. But whatever you call it, it’s an intense and interesting experience. But why does it happen?

Here at True Terpenes, we’re fascinated by how our senses influence our experiences. It seems only natural that as purveyors of aromatic and tasty terpenes that we would want to explore how our sense of smell shades our memories.

Brain Games

Our brains interpret an immense amount of data and stimuli every second. There are different regions of the brain to process different information.

When it comes to smell, our bodies are ready to sniff anything. There are at least 1,000 receptors in your body to detect smell. This is incredible when you realize that your body only has four receptors for sight and at least four for touch. As an odor hits these receptors within our nostrils, that information is sent through the cranial nerve and into our olfactory bulb. This bulb helps us to interpret and react to smells. The olfactory bulb is also part of our limbic system, which serves as the emotional control center of our brain. Your olfactory bulb collaborates with other parts of the limbic system, especially your amygdala. The amygdala helps you to form emotional memories. The olfactory bulb also interacts with your hippocampus, which aids in learning, emotions, and memory.

While the close proximity of these parts certainly plays a role in connecting memories with smells, your body’s conditioned responses are also important. Essentially, when you first smell something new, you instantly connect it to an event, person, place, or thing around you. This forever creates a bond between that smell and that memory. This is one reason that not everyone reacts to smells in the same way.

Are Some Memories More Linked to Smell Than Others?

When you catch a whiff of a familiar perfume or a particularly pungent dish, you likely think back to a moment from your childhood. That’s because we encounter more new smells in our childhood than at any other time in our lives. That said, our brains begin forming memories and connecting them with smells even as we grow in the womb. For those who were exposed to aromatic substances like garlic or tobacco while in the womb, they might find these smells comforting.

Why Are Memories in Response to Smell So Vivid?

For many, when a smell triggers a memory, they often feel that it is much more vivid than memories triggered by auditory or visual cues. This strong feeling of connection to that moment through that smell is the result of a number of factors.

First, because so many of these odor-cued memories are tied to our childhood, there is a strong sense of idealized nostalgia. For many, our early years were care-free and joyous, a period of learning and play. We think back on these years with a sense of fondness, even without a scent to prompt us. The other reason is that smell is an emotive experience. Our bodies are tuned to react to smoke in some way. We might be surprised and wary if we suddenly smell smoke. Or we might start to feel relaxed or aroused by a certain fragrance of perfume.

It’s these two factors that make our odor-cued memories feel so intense. Some even describe these memories as something akin to time travel.

Using Scent to Shade Your Memories

Do you have an upcoming event that you want to remember forever? What about a special moment that you want to capture? Given the information above, you might be able to heighten your experience and memory of that moment through the smells of that occasion.

If you already use terpenes, you likely have a palate of aromas and tastes that you enjoy. That means you already have memories associated with them This is a great chance to try new terpenes! By using a collection of new terpenes that are highly fragrant as your experiencing something new or important, you’re creating a lasting link between that scent and those feelings.

When you want to relive those moments, all it takes is a quick sniff of that same terpene profile. You’ll be awash in beautiful, meaningful memories. Ready to try terpenes today? True Terpenes is your go-to source for high-quality terpene oils. Find your favorite terpenes for sale here and order now!