The Connection Between Smell and Memory

Have you ever smelled a certain cologne, flower, or candle, and it takes you right back to a memory from long ago? Your sense of smell is incredibly powerful!

You’re walking along the street and suddenly you catch a whiff of some stranger’s cologne. It reminds you of your best friend from high school who always wore a particularly pungent and distinct cologne.

Suddenly, you’re transported from the current moment, right back to high school.

How come your sense of smell seems to be more powerful than any other sense? I’ll do my best to answer that question!

The Brain

When your brain processes sensory stimuli, it passes through a part of the brain called the thalamus. This is true for all of the other senses- sight, sound, touch, and taste.

But when it comes to your sense of smell, the thalamus is skipped altogether. In other words, the olfactory sense is processed differently.

The stimulus goes straight to the primary response center of the brain, and attaches to memories without our conscious awareness.

Lack of Language

We don’t have the words to describe all of the dimensions and nuances of smell. We smell incense burning, and we think of a time when we felt calm because we don’t know how else to describe this sensation.

When was the last time you smelled incense burning? Perhaps it was when your yoga friend invited you over to her place and you smelled her incense cone.

Maybe you were at a group meditation and you noticed the smell of lavender coming out of an essential oil diffuser.

Maybe you were at church, temple, or your place of worship.

Whatever the situation, it’s hard to describe the details of the smell, so our brain processes it as emotion. Your brain stores the smell of incense away as “calm, social connectedness, relaxed, content, warmth.”

Cognitive Impairments

Unless you have a cold, a poor sense of smell is connected with Alzheimer’s disease or brain damage. Now that we understand the way the brain connects scents and emotions, this makes a lot of sense.

Sniff tests coupled with other diagnostic measures can help patients get an early diagnosis of Azlheimer’s disease.

Catching such a debilitating disease in the early stages could positively transform the life of thousands of people across the world.




(Featured: Little Monk)

 Different scents and highly concentrated essential oils can help address different emotional states. Certain essential oils or incense cones can have therapeutic uses.

Often times, during times of distress, we are anxious about the future or ruminating about the past. Certain scents can get you out of your mind.

Whether it takes you into the moment or helps draw forward a vivid past memory, aromatherapy can be helpful.

For example, Chamomile and lavender can help ease anxiety. Sandalwood and rose can bring comfort during times of bereavement.

Lemon, black pepper, and peppermint can aid your concentration.

Sandalwood and lavender have been shown in numerous studies to help relieve depressive symptoms.

Tea tree oil can help support the immune system. It is no secret that aromatherapy can help your mental health.

Doing a bit of research on the best type of essential oil and incense cones can make all the difference!



(Featured: Eternal Dragon)


The brain processes olfactory stimuli differently than other scents. Not only that, we don’t have a lot of language to describe smells in the same way we do other senses.

This knowledge about the correlation between smells and emotion can be helpful for diagnosis of brain and memory disorders, such as Azlheimer’s.

Now that we know about the way smell elicits memory, let’s use it to our advantage by engaging in aromatherapy.

Incense Falls

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