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Forget Me Not: Do Scents Bring Back Memories?

nose fun factsScience has made some pretty interesting links regarding scent and memory and we’re learning how to use that to our advantage.  We could write off pleasant aromas as just a way to get lost in the good times. But many are turning to scents as a form of therapy, stress management and even as a work aid.

Today we’re going to talk about our wondrous noses and what they’re capable of.

Instinct is the smell of the mind

Our noses are amazing things and they are more interconnected than most people think.  If your nose were a tree its roots would reach deep into your brain brushing by things like emotion and learning.

Smells don’t trigger memories on their own but because the olfactory bulb is part of the limbic system. They interact through association.

Our brains are cluttered places so when you encounter a new smell it’s usually tied to the people, places and things around you.

The smell of gas might not remind you of a specific time and day, but it might remind you of long summer drives the first time you filled up the tank.

Smell doesn’t work like other senses.  When we see colour or an object for instance, we can describe it easily.  The same goes for a sound, like glass breaking.  Smells don’t work that way.

Sight and taste stop in a place called the thalamus.  Smell though, completely bypasses this and goes directly to our olfactory bulb. Scientists don’t know why.  This combined with the fact that there are thousands of receptors in our nose mean smell is always a rich collage of emotions.

Smelling the flowers

So how can we harness this amazing power?  Smell-o-vision is a long way off (or is it?) but there are some cool ways we’re using smells to our advantage:

• Aromatherapy: An increasing number of studies have shown that different essential oils can have immediate effects on physiology.  Aromatherapists use them to affect emotional states or even induce them.

For example, Lavender can be used as a relaxant to help with sleeping.  Other oils can be used for headaches, to boost memory and even to boost productivity!  They’re becoming more common in grocery stores and co-ops. Inhalers are sold already containing blends.

• Behavioural Science: A form of exposure therapy has recently been tried with regards to smell.  Scientists have found that by pairing a particular fear with a smell, after repeated exposure a person’s fear begins to subside.  This breaks new ground on ways we can ‘trick’ our brain into changing how it reacts to things.

Just a whiff

There’s sure to be some exciting developments in regards to the mind and scent.  The good news is that you can already use smell to enrich yourself. Whether that’s by taking a trip down memory lane or choosing the right blend for meditation, your nose is worth taking care of.