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Memorable Smells

April 12, 2017

How does our brain associate certain smells with vivid memories?



Memorable smells. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Does a whiff of your favorite food bring up a happy memory from childhood? According to University of Alaska biological anthropologist Kara Hoover, we associate strong feelings with certain odors because the brain circuitry involved in smell is more complex than that of our other senses.  

KARA HOOVER (University of Alaska):

Smell is subtle, and it’s slow and complicated. So when you smell something that information gets sent to the parietal and temporal lobes, and in those areas it’s linked to memory in the hippocampus and emotions in the amygdala. And that information, once it’s processed there gets sent forward to the frontal lobe. So by the time you actually realize what you’ve smelled and what’s going on, you’ve already experienced an emotional reaction, but it might take a while for the frontal lobe to actually think about what all that means.


Hoover’s work aims to unravel the complex interactions of smell, and its effects on our diet, moods and social interactions. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.