Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Which Sense (Smell, Sound, Sight or Touch) Makes A Memory Last?

In a world where time seems to fly, we are usually left with our memories. No matter how wonderful or painful an event may be, we can count on the fact that it will pass.  Maybe this explains why people document their lives in selfies or blogs.  Most people want to keep the good experiences for happy memories or some may want to remember a difficult experience for the lesson and growth it provided.

Yet, with our stressful, busy lives, preserving our memories can be difficult.  This is especially true as we age.  The selfies and pictures help to memorialize certain events.  Keeping a touchable memento like a blanket, doll or t shirt can help trigger a memory.  Hearing a song or a loud siren can remind someone of an experience. The smell of grandma's cookies or freshly cut grass can send a flurry of memories.  So which one is better?  While a combination of the senses is probably more enjoyable and practical to retain memories, the sense of smell maintains and recalls memories with much greater efficiency.

Smell (not sound, sight or touch) gets routed through the olfactory bulb, which is the smell-analyzing region in the brain that is closely connected to brain regions that manage memory and emotion.  Incoming smells initially arrive by the olfactory bulb, which starts inside the nose and runs along the bottom of the brain. The olfactory bulb has direct connections to the amygdala and hippocampus, which are brain areas associated with emotion and memory.  Information received from vision, sound and touch do not pass through these brain areas. This may be why the sense of smell is so much better at triggering emotions and memories.

While an odor evoking memory can occur by chance from an unsolicited odor passing by your nose, you can take advantage of  the power of certain scents to cause real physical and emotional responses through the use of aromatherapy.  Ayurveda uses essential oils as a treatment modality too.  For example, try lavender to calm anxiety and lessen the perception of pain.  

Smell is thought to be primal and related more to animals than to humans, but the emotions and memories triggered by smells show it is a gift to enjoy and benefit from.

Stay healthy & well,

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