On the vacationers tanned skins, a scent of monoi spreads on the beaches and mixes with the marine and salty smell of the sea spray. In the flowered gardens, you smell the delicious scent of sunny citrus fruits with envy. You rediscover the smell so familiar and somewhat dusty of a holiday home that is re-opened for the summer season. Suddenly, your brain sends you back to memories that you thought were forgotten, your heart beats and emotions flutter. No doubt, your nose takes control! Discover today the incredible power of olfactory memory, and the intimate link between odors and your brain.
A simple story of madeleine?
“The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it”. This famous story perfectly illustrates our point. When the narrator of “Swann’s Way” tastes a madeleine dipped in his cup of tea, it immediately reminds him forgotten childhood memories, remembering happy moments with his aunt at Combray. Thanks to this famous madeleine, Marcel Proust novelizes a statement that will be subsequently widely verified: just like taste, sense of smell is directly related to our brain and especially memories of past moments.
Sense of smell doesn’t have short memory!
When it perceives an unknown fragrance, the brain records the impression that arises and keeps it in reserve. If it meets this smell again, it remembers the first olfaction and its context. While the information received by the other senses disappear quickly from memory, smell remains in your brain for life.
But how can a scent wake up our brains and remind us of the past? When we breath, odorous molecules enter in our nose. They are collected by our “internal sensors” called olfactory neurons. Then they are transmitted to the part of our brain that interprets and dissects the smells: the olfactory bulb. The information is then sent to areas of our brain involved in sensory perception, memory and emotions. Indeed, The way can seem long but on the contrary, it is a direct connection! The olfactory bulb is located next to the hippocampus, the part of our brain that creates and sets memories. It is a true olfactory library built on our past experiences. This is not the case with sight or hearing, whose signals must take more sinuous paths and less related to our emotions.
Olfactory memory is the oldest of our sensory perceptions. Indeed, from our early age our nose knows how to identify and analyze smells. And even if you thought you forgot, your brain is always ready to remind you!
Smell the emotions
The smells are fixed in our memories thanks to the connection with the hippocampus, located next to the amygdala. Behind this name hides the core of our sensitivity as it is the part of our brain that keeps all our emotions. It is thus influenced by our sensory perceptions as taste, touch but also sense of smell. Emotions, positive or negative, are therefore an integral part of the feeling we have of a perfume. The emotion amplifies the memorization to create happy or bad memories that will be forever engraved in our heads. Olfactory memory is therefore the one that is most intimately linked to our emotions.
In our brain, a smell is therefore related to an association of ideas, the context of this “first meeting” and the emotions felt at that moment. This explains the power of olfactory memory.
When olfactory memory makes you travel
Playing with combinations of notes and scents is for the perfumer a work which takes a very special meaning. We will never say it enough, but perfume is a subjective creation. Each of us must take ownership of it depending on our olfactory memories and the experiences they evoke. Spraying your perfume is therefore a way to travel back again toward inner happy memories.
This is how some of our fragrances were born! Created from the memory of a spicy gin cocktail sipped by the sea, alõ was thought of to arouse your nose and your senses… but also (a bit selfishly it is true) to allow us to relive this moment over and over again. Thanks to its caramelized and gourmand notes, vanille may also carry you to some appetizing childhood memories in a festive kitchen…
You now better understand the power of olfactory memory and why your senses are troubled when you smell particular scents. Now it is your turn to tell us: what is your olfactory Proust’s madeleine?