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How Scents, Memories, and moods connect|moods connect|Moods Connect


How Scents, Memories, and Moods Connect

The senses play an important role in day-to-day life. This is because the sense of smell is closely tied to the way individuals think and feel. Highlighted below are two major ways that scents can affect the mind and emotions.

moods connect Bringing Back Memories

Most individuals have likely experienced the sensation of walking into a place they visited as a child an experiencing the immediate sensation of nostalgia. This isn't just linked to the fact that you've seen the place but also to the scents associated with it.

But why does this happen? For example, why is it that the smell of baking chocolate chip cookies can take you back to memories of your grandmother. Simply looking at chocolate chips in the store wouldn't cause the same reaction. Even tasting chocolate chips wouldn’t be as powerful. Why is it that scent has this incredible ability to cause memories and emotions to surface? It's all about the close connection between the brain and the nose.

The Science of Scents and Memories

The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation. 1 It’s located very close to the hippocampus, which is responsible primarily for memory, learning, and spatial navigation. 2 Together, these are two important parts of a larger network of nerves and regions of the brain that control instinct, mood, emotion, and memory. This larger network is known as the limbic system.

Out of all the senses, only the sense of smell is connected directly to the limbic system. 3 Olfactory bulbs are the first step in the process when it comes to detecting scents. These bulbs are not only in close proximity to the brain, but they are connected to the amygdala and the hippocampus, making them a part of the limbic system.

Odor-evoked Memories

This link between the nose, memory, and emotions has been carefully studied for decades now. In fact, it has been studied so extensively that there is even a term for the sense of nostalgia that can occur from a scent: odor-evoked memories. Unlike standard odor memory, which is simply the ability to remember or recognize a smell, odor-evoked memories are personal memories that are triggered when you smell certain odors.

There are clear distinctions between odor-evoked memories and memories that are evoked by other senses. Most odor-evoked memories are from early in life, often in the first decade. They are also more rare than other sensory-evoked memories. Finally, their most significant difference is their ability to evoke much stronger emotions than memories evoked by sight or sound. 4 Again, this is because of the connection between the olfactory bulbs and the amygdala .

Calming The Mind Moods Connect

If you take a look at the candle aisle in a local store, you might find several candles with words like “relaxing,” “calming, ”or “stress-free,” While there might be something soothing about watching a small flame flicker back and forth, it's actually the scents used in the candles that affects the mind and mood. Similar properties are used with relaxing aromatherapy.

There are actually multiple factors at work that cause these scents to help individuals relax. The first is closely related to the previous topic of scent and memory. Over time, humans have been trained to associate certain scents with memories or emotions. If you smell syrup, then you're going to think it's time for breakfast. But if you smell a scent like lavender, you're going to think it's time to calm down and relax.

This method is beneficial but it's not foolproof. Not everyone is hardwired the same way. For example, if a person works harvesting lavender for 10 hours a day, five days a week, then they might not think it’s a relaxing scent. Instead, it will remind them of a hard day at work. Thus, the connection between the olfactory bulbs and the amygdala can only encourage relaxation if you have personally associated a specific scent with a relaxing memory.

But there is something else at work when you inhale certain scents. You are also inhaling aromatic chemical compounds called terpenes, especially if the scent is derived from plants. These compounds are primarily found in essential oils but can also be aromatic elements added to air fresheners, candles, and perfumes.

Scientifically speaking, terpenes are a class of hydrocarbons that contain isoprenes with five-carbons. 5 They are responsible for producing many of the scents and flavors that individuals are familiar with as adults. The smell of an orange, a lemon, or a mint all come from the abundance of terpenes.

In plants, terpenes are secondary metabolites, not necessary for basic processes but the key for long-term survival, these compounds have unique benefits for humans. Terpenes produce an actual physiological response by binding to certain receptors in the body. Primarily, they bind with scent receptors in the nose. Some of them also bind with receptors in the endocannabinoid system. The effect depends entirely on the specific terpene.

Let's go back to lavender, which is a scent commonly associated with relaxation. A primary terpene in lavender essential oil is linalool. It has a very potent scent that most individuals are already familiar with. It's so well known because it is used in about 75 percent of scented hygiene products, such as lotions, shampoos, and soaps.

What's most interesting about this aromatic chemical is how it affects the body once it binds with certain receptors. The two major benefits of this terpene are its calming properties and properties that help promote happiness. This is because the linalool in lavender has a direct impact on the nervous system, which in turn can greatly impact mood. 6

It's not only linalool that can affect the mind when inhaled. There are more than a hundred terpenes that have been discovered and many of them have a unique effect on mind, body, and mood. They can boost energy, alleviate negative moods, or even improve sleep quality.

You can reap all of these benefits simply by smelling a candle with a particular blend of essential oils. Alternatively, try using essential oils topically after diluting them with a carrier oil or aromatically in a room diffuser or personal aromatherapy diffusers.


Most individuals take the sense of smell for granted. It may be the oldest sense, 7 but it's rarely prioritized oversight or touch. That’s only because individuals often fail to consider its importance: the sense of smell is the only sense tied directly to the memory and emotion centers of the brain, and the chemicals responsible for many smells bond with receptors in the body to produce physiological effects.

So, the next time you ’re feeling down or overwhelmed, consider finding a familiar smell from your childhood or an essential oil with a blend of uplifting chemical compounds to cheer you up.

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