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Smelling Your Memories? The Positive and Negative of the Proust Effect

November 22nd, 2015 1 comment

Has a smell ever made you remember a specific event or time in your life?chocolate-chip-cookies-216 A lot of people tend to equate the smell of fresh baked cookies with their childhood. For me, the smell of a burning woodstove transports me to snowy days growing up in Vermont. Odors have the exceptional ability to instantaneously trigger vivid autobiographical memories—a phenomenon referred to as the Proust effect.

While other stimuli can also (obviously) make us recall past memories, they are usually not as detailed, sudden, or vivid as those related to smells. Certain smells can suddenly and involuntarily transport us to a specific time and place. What makes smells so special? Why wouldn’t looking at a picture of your childhood home have the same effect as smelling its scent?

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