Mar 222013
Smells and Memory Cotton candy stand

Smells and Memory: One whiff of cotton candy and you’ll be seeing one of these.

We’ve discussed the role of food in family traditions and childhood memories. Part of that importance stems from the relationship between smells and memory —the olfactory sense’s role in memory recall.

Smells and Memory Recall

Think how the smell of cotton candy can take your mind back to the fair grounds of your youth. Likewise, the aroma of baking of biscuits can take you back to your grandmother’s kitchen. The connection between smells and memory recall is undeniable. Memories float to the surface on wings of these wafts of scent.

The scientific name for this sudden, vivid recall of “especially old” and “emotional” memories is Proust’s phenomenon.[i]  A study by S. Chu and J.J. Downes which compared the memory recall elicited by verbal cues to those elicited by smells. They found that the smell-cued memories are older. This means that the olfactory context is particularly important in the storage of memories when we are very young. [ii] Perhaps that’s why smells and memories of our childhood are so interdependent. Continue reading »