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Mariah's avatar

I have heard that the sense that triggers memories best is smell. Have you ever remembered something due to smell that you had otherwise forgotten? What does this say about how our memories work?

Asked by Mariah (25876points) December 24th, 2011

At my uncle’s house a few weeks ago, I used his bathroom. Upon using his soap, a buttermilk scent, I was suddenly filled with a feeling of revulsion. I couldn’t understand it; the smell itself was quite nice.

It took several weeks of thinking about it for me to remember that we had buttermilk scented soap about a year ago, and during that same time period, the drain in that bathroom sink had to be replaced because it was so clogged up with gunk. I saw the old drain plug get removed, and it was absolutely disgusting.

Sometimes smells cause me to remember things that I thought were simply no longer stored in my brain. It must have been in my unconscious mind, though. How do smells trigger access to the unconscious part of the brain that we don’t normally have?

If I sniffed a candle while studying and then smelled it during a test, do you think it would help? xD

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10 Answers

john65pennington's avatar

Smells only come second nature to me, compared with music as an association.

I can hear an old song and relate it to an eventful time in my past.

Smells are good, but music does it for me.

Good question.

Buttermilk soap? Where can I buy it?

Earthflag's avatar

Yes… I travel a lot, and I love it. The warm spring nights in Milan always had this wonderful, peaceful smell and every time I smell something similar to it, I think of Milan…

gondwanalon's avatar

According to one text book on medical biochemistry that I looked at recently, the sense of smell is the least understood of our senses.

I feel so sorry for a coworker of mine who lost her sense of smell because when you think about it the sense of smell is very important. It alerts us to sudden dangerous changes to our environment. We sniff our food before we eat it to make sure that it is not rotten. Without smell we are more vulnerable.

There is a small bottle of shampoo called “Textura” that I found in my drawer from the mid-1980’s. When I sniff it, my mind is instantly transported back in time to my younger days and along with it a flood of memories. It really blows my mind. I have no idea how it works, but I love it!

filmfann's avatar

My nephew bought a 1950 car, and when I sat in it, that smell brought me right back to my father’s 51 Cad. I was amazed.

gasman's avatar

I don’t pretend to understand how memory works, but I know that the olfactory system (sense of smell) is mediated by parts of brain also involved with memory—the so-called limbic system that includes hippocampus, amygdala, and other brain structures that are evolutionarily very old & belong to the “reptilian brain” in all of us.

So it makes sense that smells can evoke remote memories. I’ve experienced it too, and it’s sort of spooky.

partyrock's avatar

Something that reminded me of a forgotten memory of my home town, in Moscow.

I don’t know exactly what the smell was, what I think I was out shopping for groceries or running errands, and something in the air smelled exactly like home. Don’t know what it was.

But all these memories came back to me, and it was the most beautiful feeling in the world.

Linda_Owl's avatar

For me, the thing that has most sparked memories is music (smell can do it too, but memories from music have always seemed to be stronger).

cookieman's avatar

Cigars. I’ve known only one person well who smoked cigars. My grandfather. On the rare occasion I smell one, I instantly think of him.

EmptyNest's avatar

The smell of daffodils brings a full visual memory of my Grandfather’s backyard. To this day they are my favorite flower.

Paradox25's avatar

I do believe there is alot of truth to this. There are certain scents that have given me some vivid recollections on several occasions. Perfumes, colognes, flowers, tobacco and certain foods are the scents that most commonly have this effect on me.

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