How Your Sense of Smell Triggers Old Memories

sense of smell and memory

How often do scents help you recall some long-forgotten childhood memories? This is because our sense of smell and memory share a strong connection. But to understand it, we need to look at what we know so far.

Understanding the Sense of Smell

You may have already heard that smell is the first sense living organisms developed. It came long before hearing and sight and allowed different species to react to their environment. What’s more, smell is also the most complex of all our senses. There are over a hundred smell receptors that change throughout our lives. They take in all the different scents and become adapted to them.

Yet, despite the fact that smell has been there the longest, we simply can’t name certain scents. For the most part, we identify them using the names of things that produce them. As such, we have the smell of coffee, roses, or freshly mowed grass.

We have trouble describing some other smells, but we have no trouble recognizing them in our own heads. That’s where the connection between the sense of smell and memory comes into play. For every smell we cannot describe, there’s a memory we can associate with it.

What Links the Sense of Smell and Memory?

Science still can’t fully explain the connection between the sense of smell and memory. But it most likely has to do with how close the smell receptors are to the hippocampus. This part of the brain is in charge of creating new memories for your brain to store into memory. When you first identify a smell, your brain creates a corresponding image on the spot.

Moreover, smell differs from other senses in that everything it detects goes straight to your brain. With both sight and hearing, your memory is selective. Only those sensations your brain deems important will be stored away. But with smell, no sensation will go unnoticed. So, every time a familiar scent triggers a long-forgotten memory, it’s your brain working in harmony with your sense of smell.