#ScentedMemories How Scent Plays a Role in Memory

As summer fades into fall, not only do the leaves change color but so do the smells surrounding us.

Summer days are punctuated by charcoal and freshly mown grass – smells that put many of us in a happy mood with memories of family grill-outs and fun with friends.

Fall will be no different – the crispness in the air bringing with it earthen smells, conjuring clear pictures in our minds of harvests safely gathered in.

And it is no coincidence fall has become the season of pumpkin spice in every coffee shop from here to Seattle - the rich aromas mixed with the already fragrant coffee scents evoking a warm hug coming with every mug we put our hands around, always inhaling a deep breath of its rich complex smells before taking our first sip.

Scents are so strongly linked to our memories that the merest hint of a fragrance from a moment in our past can bring half-forgotten memories buried deep in our memories rushing to the surface with the power and immediacy of an express train.

Indeed, the smell of the diesel and oils of a train brings immediate happy childhood memories to me of holding my grandfather’s hand as we embarked on school vacation trips to their home and the seaside.

And there is hard science behind the phenomenon of scents triggering memories.

According to psychologist Jordan Gaines Lewis, writing in Psychology Today, brain anatomy has a lot to do with it all.

She said: “How do smells trigger such strong emotions and memories? The answer is likely due to brain anatomy. Incoming smells are first processed by the olfactory bulb, which starts inside the nose and runs along the bottom of the brain. The olfactory bulb has direct connections to two brain areas that are strongly implicated in emotion and memory - the amygdala and hippocampus.”

And the sense of smell is unique in this – information we gather from our senses of sight, touch and hearing does not pass through this region of the brain.

“This may be why olfaction, more than any other sense, is so successful at triggering emotions and memories.”, she added. So as fall heads towards us, just enjoy the experience provided by autumnal smells knowing there is good reason why you are suddenly in a good mood when you go for a walk in the neighborhood – or even stop by a coffee shop.

Ben Wilesscented memories