TRENDING SCIENCE: It’s beginning to smell like the holiday season! The science behind festive fragrances

Science has an explanation for why the holiday season smells so good.

Our sense of smell is always on high alert in December. Everywhere you go, from shopping centres to outdoor Christmas markets, there’s that strong connection between smell and feeling.

Smells transport us back to the holidays of yesteryear. It’s all quite a noseful, whether it’s the fresh pine scent of a lush, green tree, a crackling fireplace, crisp, cold air, a mouth-watering turkey, chocolate or hot wine.But why are scents so deeply connected to our emotions and nostalgia? The biology of our brain has a lot to do with it. Science can shed light on this association between important memories and the smells linked to them.

Our brain processes smells by using the olfactory bulb, a rounded mass of tissue containing several kinds of nerve cells that are involved in the sense of smell. It stretches from our nose to the bottom of our brain.

The olfactory cortex – the smell centre of the brain – receives information from the olfactory bulb. It’s strongly connected with two other areas of the brain: the limbic system and the amygdala. Both of these play key roles in the emotional components of how memories are created and recalled.

By exploring the brain’s structure, researchers have found that olfactory (smell) information takes a different path through the brain than input from the other senses. Other sensory information, such as touch and sight, doesn’t travel through the olfactory bulb. This is why smell usually surpasses other senses in arousing feelings and vivid memories. What this all means is that we’re actually processing a smell’s content and memory before we’re consciously figuring out what that smell is.“Our sense of smell of place is so tied to a specific context and environment, that when we catch something similar to it, we reconnect to that place where we first encountered those elements,” UK-based researcher, artist and smell archivist Dr Kate McLean told ‘Smithsonian Magazine’.

In practical terms, we learn to associate a particular smell with a particular event, such as the smell of gingerbread cookies in the oven of your grandma’s kitchen. The scent, and the memory and emotion it triggers, stays with us for life.

The book ‘The Neurobiology of Olfaction’ brings up several psychological studies that show “odour-cued memories are more emotional than memories triggered by visual or verbal cues.” It explains: “Odor-cued memories have also been described as more vivid than memories evoked by corresponding words ... In addition, the feeling of being brought back in time to the occurrence of the event is experienced as stronger for odor-cued memories than memories evoked by words and pictures.” In addition, most odour-cued memories go back to our first 10 years of life.

Here’s to the many heart-warming and unforgettable moments your sense of smell has stirred in your life. Hoping this holiday season is full of good smells! Why not create even more?

last modification: 2021-12-19 17:15:01
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