Did you ever wonder why certain smells make you think of home or the holidays and others conjure bad thoughts? It turns out that your sense of smell is high on the list when it comes to total recall. Here are the hard facts on why they’re linked:
Because the olfactory bulb is part of the brain’s limbic system, an area so closely associated with memory and feeling it’s sometimes called the “emotional brain,” smell can call up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously.
The olfactory bulb has intimate access to the amygdala, which processes emotion, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning. Despite the tight wiring, however, smells would not trigger memories if it weren’t for conditioned responses. When you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, a thing or even a moment. Your brain forges a link between the smell and a memory — associating the smell of chlorine with summers at the pool or flowers with a wedding. When you encounter the smell again, the link is already there, ready to elicit a memory or a mood.
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