Neuroscience: olfactory memory

Author: Redazione Date: 11 October '22 Category: Perfume World

The most important observation made by neuroscientists regarding sensoriality is that the brain works with both conscious and unconscious processes. One of the most common explanations for unconscious processes is that “we cannot think about how we think, because we are not aware of the thoughts we think about”. This is because most of the work done by the human brain takes place in unconscious processes, i.e., beyond human consciousness.

Smell and the olfactory system

These allow each of us to experience perfumes, which are closely linked to people’s emotions and to the unconscious part of us.

Thanks to the olfactory receptors in the nostrils, the scent that is inhaled can be forwarded to the olfactory centre in the brain: it is then that we perceive a scent as pleasant or unpleasant and which can affect an individual on an emotional level.

Human beings have around ten million receptors in the nose, certainly far fewer than those of dogs, which have around two hundred million, but scents can create lasting memories in humans too, which is why a childhood smell can resurface in the adult mind.

Smell is unconsciously stimulated by fragrances and influences a person’s mood in both positive and negative directions, demonstrating the ability of perfumes to contribute to a sensory experience. Furthermore, the function of smell and the properties of odours are believed to directly influence an individual’s associations and memories, as a result of reactions from emotional life. Therefore, it is possible for an individual to remember perfumes and relive a childhood fragrance even after a long time.

The birth of smell

Smell is the sense that develops first in a person, even before birth; after twelve weeks, the sense of smell is fully functional in an unborn child in the womb.

This means that, during the foetal stage, an individual may experience different scents that interact when the mother eats. This contributes to the experience of the aromatic chemicals. The early development of smell can be compared with the sense of sight, which develops more slowly after birth.

Smell and memory functions

Human smell is the sense most closely related to the part of the brain where memory functions are located.

Compared with other sensory stimuli, such as design, colour or texture, scents have a special ability to trigger our emotions, they can fill a person with joy or anger and elicit a reaction so profound that it suddenly causes tears unconsciously. Scents, therefore, can elicit strong memories of an individual’s past experiences, because each person can associate them with happy or unhappy life events.

Memories evoked by scents

As sensory stimuli, memories evoked by scents are considered to be more vivid and return the individual to their original time and place than memories awakened by other sensory stimuli.

However, at the same time, individuals also associate scents with actual events or situations they were in at the time of the scent experience. It is evident from research that olfactory stimuli tend to evoke memories that are more emotional in nature than memories evoked by verbal, visual, auditory or tactile stimuli.

The Ephèmera experience

As we have seen, smell contributes to our experience of the environment and affects our mood, emotions and memory. Scent is an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to branding and communication. It allows you to reach the heart of your customers without even saying a word. With scent, you can help your customers recall positive memories, evoke certain dreams and associate your product or service with positive concepts.

Want to design a custom fragrance for your brand?


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