Proust effect - why do scents evoke memories?
How come that a single scent can make a situation from the past seem so alive in your mind?
Close your eyes and imagine the sweet scent of spicy gingerbread cookies around you, the scent of orange peel and freshly cut pine coming from afar. What does it make you feel? Which memories come back? You probably remembered holidays. Maybe dressing a Christmas tree with baubles, maybe a smile on the faces of children when they pulled out presents from under the Christmas tree. How come that a single scent can make a situation from the past seem so alive in your mind?
Travelling back to the past or childhood that has been triggered by the sense of smell is called the Proust effect. A French writer Marcel Proust depicted in the masterpiece of literature "In Search of Lost Time" how the flavor and scent of madeleines (cookies) dipped in tea reminded him of Sunday mornings he used to spend with his aunt, where he was treated to madeleines.
Olfactory memory is an interesting phenomenon that is more and more attractive to researchers. Analyzes carried out in recent years have proven that olfaction is intrinsically connected with emotions. Researchers are investigating the effects of fragrances on people for several reasons. Aromatherapy is a well-studied phenomenon and its impact on well-being and memory improvement has been proven. Now, scientists are studying the influence of fragrances on behaviour and decision-taking. The results of these tests can be seen, for example, in supermarkets, where it always smells of freshly baked bread near the bread stands – oftentimes the smell is artificially created and spread by the employees.
There is also a phenomenon called collective olfactory memory. It occurs when our perception of fragrances is dependent on the place and time in which we live, rather than personal experiences. This can be illustrated by durian - a fruit that grows in Asia. Who had the opportunity to try durian, will probably make a wry face at the mere mention of the unpleasant odour. This statement will be true for Europeans, an Asian however may smile at the thought of the sweet fruit that they enjoy very much. How is it possible that the same fruit is perceived as sweet and tasty by some and quite unpleasant by the others? The answer is the collective olfactory memory, i.e. the perception of the fragrance by a given environment.
Therefore, our olfactory perception is shaped by a multitude of experiences of which fragrance memory consists. It is moulded by each and every fragrance you have ever encountered – scent of all the forests you have travelled, the smell of salt water by the sea, cotton candy eaten in the circus. And on top of that the perception is also dependent on how other people in our environment perceive them.
The durability of fragrance memory deserves special attention. The sense of smell develops faster than the sense of sight. Fragrance memories are collected throughout the life. This is of great importance while recalling memories from childhood that we do not remember. People born at the time when pictures were not made as often as now, because of the lack of cell phones or digital cameras, collect all the beautiful moments of their lives as memories. It is truly wonderful that the smell of a baked plum cake can revive memories of a grandma's kitchen.
If you want to find yourself in your family’s garden, we recommend the fragrance of Geranium, Orange, Bergamot. Want to return on a trip to Arab countries? Try white tea and mint. Sweet Sandalwood will help you achieve a meditative state as during a visit to a Buddhist temple.
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