While we all experience fragrance in our own way, why does the same smell provoke different emotions within each of us?
Unlike sight, smell is a sensitive, personal and very intimate sense. The colour of a flower may be relatively easy to describe but putting its fragrance into words is a much more complex matter. Although we all breathe in the same scent, our brains do not process it in the same way. And the reason for this is our olfactory memories!
On a physiological level we are all made the same way. Our olfactory mucous is made up of some 350 receptors located on the walls and roof of the nasal cavity. When odorous molecules in the air come into contact with these receptors a signal is sent via sensory neurons to the olfactory bulb. This processes them and enables the emotion centre (the limbic brain) to recognise the information.
Emotions triggered by scents
> A perfume can suddenly stimulate our memory and remind us of a story or a person which had seemed to be buried away in our past.
> A particular fragrance can enable us to travel through time and bring back to us precious childhood memories
> A perfume moves us because we have smelt it before. At a very young age we retain the smell of our mother, then of cakes, of school books or of the school playground.
The olfactory memory is one of the memories that stays with us the longest as we age - even for those affected by Alzheimer's. While sufferers may not be able to recollect what happened a few minutes ago, they often associate the fragrance or perfume of a loved one with a happy memory.
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