Pink Jargon: The Invisible Power of Scent & Music

You know that particular scent that brings out a rush of memories? The scent of curry that reminds you of the first time you had Indian cuisine and loved it, the sweet smell of your mother’s pillow that brings you closer to her when she’s away, the smell of fresh bakery that reminds you of spending time at your grandmother’s when you were little. That antiseptic smell that brings you unpleasant memories of your dentist and the scent of a particular perfume that reminds you of a distant relationship.

There is this song that makes me think of the summer I spent rubbing oil on myself in pursuit of a perfect tan (and getting burned). There’s another tune that reminds me of tagging along with my father on Friday mornings to Heliopolis Club. There’s that jingle that reminds me of my first mobile phone and one that brings back my first heartbreak.

And we all have a particular music album for each summer. No wonder AmrDiab released his new albums every summer, eh? (Ugh, I knew the guy must have done something right)

I had never thought of digging into this, but with this curfew and all, why not get a bit scientific and dig in my closet? I asked myself, why is scent such a powerful memory trigger?

The olfactory nerve is located close to the amygdala, the area of the brain that is connected to the experience of emotion and emotional memory. This olfactory nerve is also very close to the hippocampus, which is associated with memory. (Sounds like gibberish). The actual ability to smell is highly linked to memory. Research has shown that when areas of the brain connected to memory are impaired, the ability to identify smells is quite weakened. To identify a scent, you must remember when you smelled it before and then connect it to something visual that occurred at the same time.

In brain scans, music lights up the medical prefrontal cortex (Yeah, it doesn’t make much sense to me either) but it triggers a memory that starts playing in your mind. In a sudden flash, you can see a place, a person, and an incident. The strongest responses to music-the ones that elicit vivid memories-cause the greatest activity on brain scans. In other words, human response to music is evidence that we are more than just flesh and blood, that we also have souls. All reactions to stimuli can be traced back to a reason. You pull your hand away from fire to avoid hurting yourself. You get butterflies in your stomach before a public speech because of the adrenaline pumping through your veins. But there is no evolutionary context that makes sense of people’s response to music. Music is proof that there is much more to us than biological and physiological mechanics.

So take a trip down to memory lane, dig out all those tapes and CDs and beats you listened to. We all somehow had eventful times along the way. Think of all the delicious scents you remember, find them and relive their moments. Don’t overdose on cookies though. We have too much time being locked in the comfort of our homes, it would be good to look back at our lives, reminisce and enjoy all the bits and pieces, we never thought we ever would. 

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