General Question

Garebo's avatar

Of the senses touch, taste, scent, hearing or sight, which evokes the most powerful memories?

Asked by Garebo (3183points) April 4th, 2009

Which evokes the most powerful emotional response from you. I know music can evoke strong emotional memories in people, then again smell can be equally powerful, visual response seem less so, to me, and tactile things the least memorable. The taste of a particular food has returned some strong memories.

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29 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I think hearing would have to be it because I’d be remembering something incredible they said to me or something they breathed to me over the phone or growled into my ear during sex…

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

I suppose it would depend on the memory being recalled. If the memory involved a smell then it would be a smell.. and so on.

For me it is usually a combination of two or more of the senses which provide the biggest jolt.

cak's avatar

For me, the sense of smell. The right smell, it brings me back to childhood. A different smell – I’m picking strawberries with grandmother. Scents can bring me back to far more places that my other senses. I’ve learned, unfortunately, sometimes, a sound might fade more for me, than a smell.

essieness's avatar

For me, music and scent. To this day, when I hear “The Weight” by The Band, I think of my dad. It doesn’t matter when or where I hear it, I’m suddenly taken back to childhood. The same with Aromatics Elixir by Clinique. My mom wore that when I was young and whenever I smell it, instant time machine. I always associate music and scents with particular periods in my life.

wundayatta's avatar

Smell for me, too. Thanksgiving turkey smells. Making tomato sauce smells. Paper factory, barnyard, and I can’t remember how many more. Send some smells my way, and I’ll tell you what they remind me of.

The other day I was on a river’s edge, and there was this weird smell that I knew I’d selled before, but I just couldn’t figure it out for the longest time. Then I realized it was like the smell of seaweed that has washed up on the sand and has been sitting in the hot sun for a while.

ru2bz46's avatar

Mmmm…the sweet smell of skunk really takes me back. I love it.

casheroo's avatar

Definitely smell.
It can instantly remind me of a past situation, even if I don’t normally remember that memory. I love it.

exitnirvana's avatar

Smell definitely brings back the most memories for me, and can instantly remind me of a particular time, place, experience, or person in the past. For example, the smell of Honeysuckle brings back memories of my childhood running around in the backyard of my grandparents house, while the smell of clean clothing with a hint of woodsmoke reminds me of my significant other and where he grew up.

aviona's avatar


It catches me off-guard more than anything.

Songs have poignant memories attached, but I am more aware of them and expectant of the feelings that arise when I hear them.

asmonet's avatar

I’ve heard it’s scent.

Smell of cookies, father’s cologne, new baby smell…

I think there’s been whole studies on this before, right?

VzzBzz's avatar

Smell for me. The smell of rain wet cornfields, burning pine sap and gasoline.

AstroChuck's avatar

Olfactory memory has been studied extensively. The sense of smell has the strongest connection to memory of all the senses.

prasad's avatar

Hearing to music for me.
I’m not able to uderstand how smell can be? as answered from most of flutherites above? Smell makes me react in some way or other though.
Sight also recalls some memories. I mean, photo albums or videos reminds of certain things. That’s why we preserve photos and videos, for example when we go abroad. And, this is the only memento which can be preserved over long time by the current technology.

mattbrowne's avatar

Smell of course, for a very simple reason: it’s our oldest sense and it connects directly to the oldest parts of our brain. Only two synapses are in between the olfactory bulb and the amygdala.

bythebay's avatar

I’m going to ditto @mattbrowne; although I might never have stated it so eloquently. A scent can throw me back instantly, when often my sense of hearing or sight can confuse me. I have mentioned on Fluther many times that music is also key for me to recall certain events & periods of time. The soundtrack of my life.

dynamicduo's avatar

Smell. Hands down. Even if there wasn’t scientific proof to support the conclusion, my experiences would be enough. Some smells can take me back to memories I had long since forgotten.

nikipedia's avatar

@mattbrowne: Technically speaking, the amygdala is not responsible for memory. It appears to modulate memory encoding in the hippocampus, which is the part of your brain responsible for all conscious memories. Your statement that “two synapses are in between the olfactory bulb and the amygdala” is distinctly untrue.

The olfactory bulb (the part of your brain that gets information from your nose) sends thousands of projections directly to the centromedial nucleus of the amygdala, which projects directly to the basolateral nucleus of the amygdala. The basolateral nucleus has reciprocal projections to many areas of the cortex, but the relevant ones in this case are the olfactory cortex and the medial temporal lobe, which houses the hippocampus and surrounding cortex involved in declarative memory (the entorhinal cortex, the dentate gyrus, and the parahippocampal cortex).

None of these are considered “old” parts of your brain. The areas at the very base of your brain, responsible for crucial life functions (respiration, heart beat, etc) are the evolutionary oldest.

Anyway, the reason smell has such strong links to memory is because it assists the amygdala in modulating the hippocampus.

Linda_Owl's avatar

For me it is hearing. Words that are spoken, good or bad, find permanent lodging in my mind & color the way that I respond to different situations. And music. Hearing music will make me think of situations & people that were in play for me when I first heard the song & hearing the song again will bring it all back very clearly, & it will linger in my mind for days.

mattbrowne's avatar

@nikipedia – Thanks for the correction. You seem to know a lot more about the brain than I do. What I meant by older parts is related to evolution. Isn’t it correct that smell was developed before sight an hearing? Of course there are functions that are even older than smell, but they are not senses. And isn’t it true that very few synapses are required to interpret smell or connect them to memory? From what I know the processing of sight and sound requires more neurons and more synapses. So has this to do with assisting the amygdala in modulating the hippocampus?

jo_with_no_space's avatar

It’s gotta depend on the person.

Garebo's avatar

Smell is no question powerful to me, but if I hear “Why does love got to be so Sad” or “Little Wing” or on and on-I can be brought to tears. Waah!

ohmyword's avatar

Definitely smell. Hearing comes in a close second for me though.

mcbealer's avatar

OK, so I’ve been pondering this GQ for a few days now, and got lost somewhere along the way…. undecided between sight and sound. All the time telling myself what were they thinking? about everyone on this thread who responded smell.

Then, today, it happened to me.

I was hiking in PA with my dogs and all of a sudden a certain part of the trail had this real pungent woodsy smell—and it flipped me back 20 years to when I had the chance to spend a few days at a commune called The Farm in TN. Unbelievable. I guess the sense of smell is very powerful.

Props to all you smelly or is it smelling jellies out there!

AstroChuck's avatar

Both, in my case.

asmonet's avatar

@mcbealer: Lurve for The Farm! My brother was born there in 1982. In apparently one of the ‘houses’ for pregnant women that had a track record of only having boys born.

mcbealer's avatar

@asmonet ~ KingMalefic’s your bro??

asmonet's avatar

Yep, that’s my big brother. He is all of four years older than me. :)

RedmannX5's avatar

Similar to what @nikipedia and @mattbrowne were saying, the parts of our brain that process the chemical signals of odors (olfactory sensory neurons, olfactory bulb, etc.) are intimately connected via the entorhinal cortex to both the amygdala (which facilitates emotional memory) and the hippocampus (which is directly involved in storing and retrieving memories). Smell is hypothesized to trigger memories so well due to these intimate connections. If you are experiencing high levels of emotions (especially fear) during the memory formation process, the amygdala sends a rush of neuronal signals to the hippocampus, which creates an extremely strong and easily retrievable memory. For example, the first time you smell your grandmother’s homemade cookies you are most likely feeling a lot of love and strong emotion towards her (and her cookies), which activates the aforementioned pathway, and so the next time you smell her homemade cookies that original memory is immediately retrieved. Ta Da!

RedmannX5's avatar

Smell is most likely the “strongest” memory retriever, but for me music is definitely second best (probably because of my engulfing passion for it). Anytime I hear any song I can immediately remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I first heard it…it’s amazing. This might be due to the inherent emotional qualities that music has, similar to smell, and that music activates many many regions of the brain when listened to, but knowing a lot about the human brain I’m sure it’s MUCH more complex than that! always is.

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