Why your nose is the door to nostalgia
Ever sniffed the air in a good bakery and been transported instantly back to sitting by your grandmother’s Aga? Or walked into a primary school and found the smell of utilitarian floors and Dettol made you feel six again?
It’s really more surprising if this hasn’t happened to you, as smell is the most evocative of all our senses. Because our language is not so rich in words to describe smells as it is sights or sounds, they are harder to pinpoint and describe but smells work more efficiently with our brains to evoke memories than anything we see or hear.
The US journal Cerebral Cortex found that the reason for this is that our brains log smells away in the area used for storing long-term memories. In fact, we are able to recall twice as many memories when they are associated with a smell as when they aren’t.
This will be why shops and would-be house vendors bake bread - in hopes of transporting you to a time when you felt safe and at home, hoping your purse will fall open during this reverie. Too bad if your mum only ever bought Hovis and the only time you smelled bread in the oven was at your most-disliked aunt’s house…
And it’s true, smell can evoke very negative memory responses too. The scent of an ex-boyfriend’s brand of aftershave might make you feel heartbroken (or just furious) all over again, 20 years after he dumped you for Carol with the bad perm.
Whether smells take you back to happy times or upsetting ones, we’ve been fascinated this month by what smells evoke strong nostalgic responses in you. The Simple Things staff listed everything from specific brands of shampoo, to cut grass to horse manure among theirs! We’d love you to share yours with us in the comments below, too.
If you’d like to learn more about the power of scent, in our April issue, our ‘Know a Thing or Two’ feature is all about essential oils. It’s in the shops now. Just don’t go down the bakery aisle while you’re there or who knows what you’ll come back with. Freshly baked apple puff, anyone?