The Power of Smell


Although it was one of the lowest ranked in the polls, your sense of smell is most directly related to your memory.


There's a lot of speculation as to what drives the relation between scent and memory. Here are some of the leading theories:


Your Olfactory bulb is the part of your brain that controls Olfaction (that's just a fancy word for sense of smell). The Olfactory bulb is a structure of the Limbic System, which is directly linked to your central nervous sytem, and "work together to affect a wide range of behaviors including emotions, motivation, and memory" (Limbic System). A common idea is that because your sense of smell "control center" is so close physically to your memory.

Conditioned Responses

When you're going about your day living life, your brain is doing a lot of hard work in the background. Every time you smell something new, your brain links that scent to a place, person, or event. Because this happens unbeknownst to you, it can come as a shock when it reveals itself at random times. This effect is the reason that people prefer different smells, because your brain pairs the scents with an emotional response as well. While the smell of lilies may make one person happy because the brain classified it with their wedding day, it could agitate another because it reminds the brain of a funeral they went to when they were 12.

Putting Scent To The Test

In order to see what weight these theories hold, I asked a volunteer to participate in a smell test. This is the task: smell a few "unknown" objects while blindfolded, and share what memories the scent elicited. 

For interactive figures click here: