The Reason Why Smells Ring Bells
“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale…the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.” – Daphne du Maurier
A sentimental woman walked through the department store, looking for the right gift to give her daughter. Being a widow now, she found herself always searching for ways to remember her husband. As she perused through the aisles of fine linen and tea sets, she stopped immediately when a man walked by in a brown suit with a cane. He limped beside her, and she couldn’t help but remember her husband’s smile. It wasn’t the brown suit, nor was it the way he wobbled by with his wooden cane; it was the whiff of cologne he wore. The unforgettable scent took her back to 1965 when she and her husband went on their first date. As she stood there gathering her senses, the smell of the musk made her heart skip a beat as she remembered her husband beside her.
What is it about scents that take us back in time? The part of the brain that processes smell, called the olfactory bulb, lives adjacent to the hippocampus. Nestled deep within the brain, the hippocampus is a location for information arriving from all over the rest of the cortex. Neuroscientists have discovered that the hippocampus is crucial for creating new memories for events. Since the olfactory bulb and the hippocampus are neighbors, they work together to create the phenomena of the time machine of smells.
Aside from the idea that smells take us back in time, certain smells have a reputation. This is why realtors encourage people to make cookies or light candles with a bakery fragrance because the distinct smell will give people a feeling of “being home.” Lavender also has a reputation to trigger relaxation, which is why it’s always permeating the air of your favorite spa. There are also signature smells that many people can relate to, and when smelled, take you to a particular place. The smell of pine will take you to Christmas, and even the musty water and stone smell of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride will throw you into a nostalgic frenzy. The nose knows, and it is something that almost everyone has experienced. Whether it’s the smell of gardenia that takes you to grandma’s garden or the scent of cologne that makes your heart skip a beat, a simple whiff of something you remember can move you in so many ways.
Sabrina Short, Staff Writer