Why Smell and Flavor Trigger Memories

Perfume. Pancakes. Pink erasers. Have you noticed how certain smells bring back vivid memories? There's a reason why, according to this neuroscience professor.👃

A simple smell or of taste will bring back this memory quite vividly

Why do certain smells or tastes trigger memories? Stuart Firestein, a neuroscience professor at Columbia University, has studied the olfactory system for over 35 years. Memories from a smell or flavor are usually strong and emotional. “Most of what we call taste is really flavor. It's about 80% due to your olfactory system when you chew food up, you send vapors up the backside of your palate onto your nasal epithelium we call it, and then the cells in your nose which smell it. We don't smell something and remember a page of text or a phone number of formulas anything useful like that, we always have these emotionally-laden memories — your grandmother's basement or kitchen, your first lover, or the first day of school. In Alzheimer's patients or patients suffering from forms of dementia where they have trouble forming new memories especially, but where old memories still exist, you can treat them to odors that would be part of their old there older life as it were, their past life — perfumes they wore or foods they cooked. Some of these memories are similar in some ways to PTSD, post-traumatic stress syndrome. Where in the case of olfactory memories, a simple smell or of taste will bring back this memory quite vividly,” Dr. Firestein explains

Dr. Stuart Firestein is the Chair of Columbia University's Department of Biological Sciences. His colleagues and he study the vertebrate olfactory receptor neuron as a model for investigating general principles and mechanisms of "signal transduction" — the ways in which chemicals, such as neurotransmitters, hormones, and peptides with membrane receptors, exert their influence in the brain and nervous system. He hypothesizes that the olfactory neuron is uniquely suited for these studies since it is designed specifically for the detection and discrimination of a wide variety of small organic molecules, like odors.