Why do smells trigger strong memories?

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Have you ever caught the scent of something and felt like you were instantly transported to the past? If you’re like most people, you probably have at some point in your life. Our sense of smell is tied tightly with our memories of the past, making us feel like we are time-traveling when we catch certain odors on the breeze. Why does this happen? We’re about to explain the phenomenon and show you why a scent of fresh apple pie can make you feel like you’re right back in Granny’s kitchen as a six-year-old!

To put it simply, your brain works in such a way that your sense of smell is intertwined with your memories and your emotions. Unlike your other senses, smell manages to play a distinct roll in connecting you with the past.

When a smell first enters through your nose, it is a chemical particle that makes its way to your brain’s olfactory bulbs. The olfactory bulbs work to make it easy to process by the rest of the brain before it ships it off to the amygdala. The amygdala is the small section of the brain that helps to process your emotions, giving the smell the chance to intertwine with the way that you are feeling. After that stop, the smell is then transported to the hippocampus, where it mixes among the area where memories are formed.

This pathway through the brain is a total switch from the other senses, which go directly to the thalamus where their information is imparted to the rest of the brain.

Because of this unique path through the brain and combination with the emotions and memories, smells can impact us for years to come. Sometimes, even going so far as to bring us to tears when we are reminded of a particularly emotional time.

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Smells have the ability to turn back the hands of time and even give us memories that we had long forgotten. While sights and sounds may trigger some things, smells manage to impact us the most. Often, when someone smells a fragrance from their past, they have an intense emotional experience followed by memory. In some cases, the emotions can come without actually remembering what they are evoking.

If a person keeps smelling the same odor over and over again, it will eventually stop being associated with the old memory at all, making the “time travel” no longer possible.

While it’s fascinating to know that smells can bring back memories, it’s also important to keep in mind that these memories can sometimes trick us. In some cases, they may be inaccurate and our brains are rewriting certain details. Regardless of whether a memory is true or false, the smeller will usually be convinced that it is real since their emotions are being played on so heavily at the same time.

So, the next time you smell fresh cut grass and get taken back in time to your first job mowing your neighbor’s lawn, you can thank your brain for giving you the ability to time travel just with a whiff of the fragrance.