As I was leaving Wal-Mart this afternoon, the thought came to my head that the entrance smelled like my Bigmother's (maternal grandmother) house. It was the smell of bath powder and maybe some other unknown fragrance as well. Funny thing how that thought just popped into my head. My Bigmother has been gone for 33 years.
I'm not one of those persons that smells bring up memories very often. So after today's sudden memory and having a curious nature (according to Diahn : ) I decided to look up the reason behind this experience.
The olfactory bulb is part of the brain's limbic system, an area closely associated with memory and feeling. It has access to the amygdala, where emotion is processed, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning.
As small children, we learn to associate smells with specific emotional responses to people, places or events, otherwise known as conditioned responses. Because a link is formed in the brain between the smell and the event we associate the same smells with those long past memories.
Higher level processing of olfactory information is done by the olfactory cortex. This is where we process the specific memories associated with smells. Only two synapses separate the olfactory nerve from the amygdala. Three synapses separate the olfactory nerve and the hippocampus.
Smells can also elicit feelings of welling being in us. These are some smells that I have warm fuzzy feelings about: the smell of freshly mown grass, the way dirt smells before the rain, that baby oil/powder smell of little babies, cinnamon rolls baking and the pungent smell of good cheese. One evening last week, I drove home with the windows down along a road that had an abundance of wisteria blooming in the trees. Mmmmmm, the smell was heavenly.
Some of my least favorite smells are playdoh, paperwhites ( too strong!), turnip greens cooking (although I like to eat them), cabbage cooking and burning leaves. Some of the worst smells are critters that die in the wall forcing you to live with the odor until they decompose (yuck I know but tell me it's never happened in your house), passing too close to a paper mill (stinks to high heaven if you've never experienced that one) and stinky feet.