The power of scents is truly sensational. There are scents and fragrances meant to make one attractive, scents that aid in relaxation or sleeping, or even ones that energise and awaken you. Scientists have researched that there are over 5,000 scents that the average human can smell, and this as well sends 5,000 reactions to the human brain. And one of the unique traits of scents and fragrances is the ability to enkindle memories and emotions.
When you were young, have you ever had a security blanket, a favourite teddy bear, or an adored shirt that you have kept until now? If you try to smell it now, wouldn’t it trigger some of your favourite childhood memories? Wouldn’t that somehow bring you to some days in the past when you were playing happily with your playmates in your much-loved spot in the playground, and you were all smiles?
Another instance is when a man falls in love with a woman who loves to bake. He suddenly develops a liking to the smell of fresh oven-baked bread, pie, or cakes, and whenever he passes by cafes or bakeries, he is always reminded of his loved one, even after they have broken apart.
In the same way, when someone loses a loved one, smelling scents related to that person instantly brings up memories about him or her. Some people intentionally do not wash the bed sheets or pillowcases of someone who has just passed away in order to somehow preserve his scent and essence.
Scents conjure up conditioned responses, an acquired reaction to past neural stimuli. Scientists explain that whenever we inhale odoriferous molecules, our olfactory bulbs transmit signals to the entorhinal cortex in the brain, which serves as a memory network hub. The brain in turn tries to connect the scent with a memory. On the other hand, if one smells something for the first time, the brain attempts to create an association between the scent and other memories or stimulus, which are brought back up later on when the scent comes up again.
In a research from John Hopkins University School of Medicine, scientists are trying to figure out the code for how humans smell – the so-called olfactory code. Once the olfactory code has been discovered, and at the same time how receptors work, which of these receptors lead to the olfactory nerves and with which brain parts, then we can already craft special odorants to create specific effects. For instance, another study has discovered that some particular scents can provoke changes in blood pressure, and other bodily reactions, the same as those acquired through relaxation, as what is acquired through relaxation and meditation techniques used to aid people dealing with stress.
Many researches and studies are being conducted nowadays in order to make this discovery on scents and stimuli become helpful to people dealing with certain conditions. For example, the scent released by spiced apple has been found out to be effective in bringing down systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
In another research, a spray is being designed to keep obese patients from eating too much high caloric food. It is similar to the chocolate spray chocoholics use to spray on their tongues whenever the chocolate craving comes in, to help them avoid binge eating.
For students and professionals whose job requires memorisation, a technique was actually discovered during a study reinforcing that scent triggers memory theory – when studying or memorising something, spray on your favourite mist or perfume. And then during the day of the exam or the event, use the same mist or perfume. Inhaling the scent again will send in signals to the brain, helping you go back to the time you were still studying or memorising.
There is, indeed, a powerful link between scents and memory, and it is up to us on how we can use this to our advantage.