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What is it about scent and memory?

Have you ever caught a whiff of a certain scent and been transported back in time to a specific moment or memory? It's not just your imagination - scent actually has a strong and unique connection to triggering vivid memories.
Our sense of smell is directly linked to the part of our brain that processes memories and emotions. When we smell something, it triggers a response in a part of our brain that can instantly transport us back to a specific time or place.¹ This is how certain scents can be so powerful in evoking memories and emotions. For example, the smell of freshly cut grass may remind you of summer days spent playing outside as a child, while the smell of smoke may remind you of a traumatic event.
While scent is a powerhouse for memories, it's also highly unique to each individual. What smells good to one person may not smell good to another, and everyone has unique memories associated with different scents. My aunt used to wear White Linen perfume by Estee Lauder, and to this day, whenever I catch a hint of that scent, it instantly brings me back to the hot Louisiana summers I'd spend at her house each year. Even though I'm not a personal fan of the scent for myself, I think back on those vintage, bright, floral notes with such fondness in my heart because of the beautiful soul I associate the fragrance with.
But, scent isn't just tied to memories of the past, it can also be used to create new memories. If you're planning an important event, like a wedding, incorporating certain scents into the event can help create a memorable experience. This is why you see so many brides talking about their wedding day scent, so they will always have memories associated with a particular fragrance to give them another method to preserve the memories of their big day. If you're a current bride looking to expand that experience to your guests, a great way to do that could be by placing the perfect, scented, votive candle that matches your aesthetic as the centerpiece on your tables. Are you currently on the hunt for the perfect scented votive candle? Click here to take our scent quiz to see which scent would elevate your aesthetic.
woman smelling sunflowers
But, scent is so much more than just creating memories. It also has a big impact on our mood and behavior in the moment. The sense of smell can affect our appetite, sexual behavior, and even our social interactions. Have you ever noticed how walking by your favorite bakery and the aroma of their freshly baked goods can stimulate your appetite and make you feel hungry, or how the aroma of a coffee-scented candle can energize your mood and help you push through your toughest workload? The way it can change your current mood is the reason scent is often used in meditation practices and therapeutic settings and also why aromatherapy (an ancient practice using essential oils to heal pain, improve mood, etc) has been growing in popularity in the Western wellness industry in recent years.
With scent having so much impact on your memories, appetite, and mood, it's become a powerful tool in marketing and branding for a lot of companies. Retailers will often use specific scents in their stores or products to create specific atmospheres that create an emotional connection with customers creating a more memorable shopping experience.²
Whether it's the smell of freshly baked cookies that reminds you of your childhood or the scent of a certain cologne that brings back fond memories of a past love, scent has the ability to transport us to different moments in time. So next time you catch a whiff of a familiar aroma, take a moment to appreciate the power of scent and the memories and emotions it evokes. Do you have a favorite mood-boosting scent? Leave a comment below letting me know which scents elevate your routine.
1. Mouly, A., & Sullivan, R. (2010). Memory and Plasticity in the Olfactory System: From Infancy to Adulthood. In: The Neurobiology of Olfaction. Available from:

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