why do smells have such strong associations with memory?


As I understand it, the olfactory nerve terminates near a memory center of the hippocampus, which means there are some overlapping synapses, but that still doesn’t make specific sense to why the neuronal pathways are interconnected.

In: 54

Scent is processed in the olfactory bulb in the brain, which bypasses the ~~hypothalamus~~ hippocampus, normally the structure in the brain which integrates memory. As a result scent, the most primitive of our senses and literally our brain “tasting” the world through our skulls, is wired directly into the evolutionarily ancient parts of our brains.

The result is that scent is a very visceral experience which is processed, stored and retrieved differently than memories of all of our other senses.

Our sense of smell is closely linked to our memories because the olfactory bulb, which is responsible for processing smells, is located in the same part of our brain as the hippocampus and amygdala, which are involved in memory and emotion. When we smell something, the olfactory receptors in our nose send signals directly to the olfactory bulb, which then sends signals to the hippocampus and amygdala.

Because these areas of the brain are closely linked, when we smell something, it can trigger memories and emotions associated with that smell. This is because the brain creates strong connections between smells and experiences, and when we smell something that we have experienced before, it can activate those memories and emotions.

For example, the smell of freshly baked cookies might remind you of baking cookies with your grandmother when you were a child, or the smell of chlorine might remind you of swimming in a pool during summer vacations. These smells can evoke vivid memories and emotions associated with those experiences, even if they happened many years ago.

In summary, smells are associated with memories because of the close connection between the olfactory bulb, which processes smells, and the hippocampus and amygdala, which are involved in memory and emotion. This connection creates strong associations between smells and experiences, which can trigger memories and emotions when we encounter those smells again.

Smell is wired directly into the hippocampus/amygdala, areas of the brain responsible for emotion/fear/longterm memory. It’s a very evolutionary old wiring setup that’s conserved across many types of animals, and along with sight is the only cranial nerve not connecting in through the brainstem. The brainstem setup filters and routes things before getting to higher processing centers, whereas smell bypasses this and gets straight to it.

Smell can drive behaviors in animals and can be useful in detecting predators/mates/food. So in a way it makes sense to bypass the “router” and go straight to long term memory/fear/emotion centers to associate danger and produce a fight or flight response for example with a predator smell.

When I was a very young child, my mother was a florist. My earliest memories are smells associated with floral displays. Weddings and funerals mostly. Funerals are a weird thing for me, because I associate them with my mom’s funeral but also with all the funerals she dressed when I was a kid. Scents are powerful and confusing.

Reading these comments makes me feel like the brain is still the sickest computer around and we’ve got a long way to go with our own machines before they evolve to human brain level. Astonishing.