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The Five Senses and How They Trigger Nostalgia|woman smelling bottle|essential oil room diffuser|hearing


The Five Senses and How They Trigger Nostalgia

The five senses play an essential role in the human understanding of how the external world works. It is through the senses that people have an understanding of what is going on in the world around them and how they should respond to it.

But did you realize that the senses can trigger many other pathways in the brain? For instance, the five senses can trigger deep emotional experiences, as well as connect individuals to memories and nostalgic moments. This can help people create links between what is currently going on in their lives and what they might want to experience in the future.

Each of the five senses plays a distinct role in the general understanding of the world around individuals and the world inside each individual. Here are some of the most fascinating facts about all of the five senses and how they trigger nostalgia.

woman smelling bottle

The Sense of Smell and Memory

The sense of smell is perhaps the most fascinating when investigating the link between memories and senses. 1 This is because there is a unique connection between the ability to smell and memories. Unlike all of the other senses, where the information that is taken in by the sensory organ is transmitted to the thalamus, the information taken in by the nose is sent straight to the amygdala and hippocampus.

In this way, the olfactory bulb makes it possible for the smells you experience to be directly processed by some of the most dynamic parts of your brain. The amygdala has been identified as the area of the brain where deep and powerful emotional responses are processed, and the hippocampus has been shown to play an important role in memory processing and recall.

So, when a smell enters your nose and is processed by the olfactory bulb, that information is then sent to two powerhouses in your brain responsible for both emotion and memory. That’s why scents can be such a powerful way to trigger memories and emotions.

Smell, Nostalgia, and Aromatherapy

Understanding the biological underpinnings of the sense of smell helps illuminate why aromatherapy has so many benefits. When you stimulate your sense of smell with the right aromas, you can take a superhighway to some of your deepest memories.

Research has shown that experiencing nostalgia can have a whole host of amazing benefits. 2 When people reminisce about days gone by, they are able to connect to deeply ingrained pathways of uplifting feelings. This can both help boost mood and motivation.

essential oil room diffuser

How To Put Aromatherapy to Work

In order to harness the benefits of nostalgia using aromatherapy, select essential oils and scents that remind you of times from your past. Anything that immediately jogs your memory can be useful. You can then bring that scent with you throughout your day, providing you with an instant pick-me-up whenever you need one.

By tapping into the power that scents have to trigger emotions and our memories, it’s possible to create greater control over emotions in general. That makes the sense of smell an important tool for emotional balancing and motivation.

Foods and Nostalgia

Another amazing stimulus for nostalgia and memories, in general, is the sense of taste. 3 This is unsurprising given the close relationship between the sense of taste and sense of smell.

Having said that, when a company or restaurant creates food that helps people reconnect to comfort foods from the past, you can also benefit from the nostalgia that comes flooding in. Neurological research is demonstrating that connecting with these foods that remind you of the past can boost mood. They can even remind individuals of their social connections, which can help reduce loneliness.


Hearing and Memories

Another of the five senses that can stimulate the great benefits of nostalgia is the auditory system. 4 For instance, researchers and caregivers for individuals with Alzheimer’s have demonstrated that playing music from the patient’s youth can have incredible benefits. Patients can go from being confused to regaining some of their ability to communicate and remembering things from their past.

That is just one example of how stimulating the auditory cortex can offer some truly unique and powerful experiences of memory. Research has also shown that playing music from your youth can have an almost equally powerful neurological reaction in the brain as having sex or doing drugs can.

Many of the neural pathways that were forged when you first enjoyed the music can become reignited and offer individuals the opportunity to bring themselves back into the attitudes and feelings that were experienced the first time you heard the music.

The Visual System and Memories

There is a lot of truly fascinating research about the connection between memories and the visual system. A phenomenon like deja vu or having a memory sparked by visual cues is a common experience for individuals. In fact, when people are thinking of memories from the past, it can even make it more difficult for us to see what is present in the moment. 5

In order to harness the power of our visual system to spark memories, consider putting up signs or other visual cues of things that you want to remember on a daily basis. This can be as simple as writing an affirmation on a piece of paper or creating a vision board that is filled with the goals and visual cues that you want to focus on throughout your day or week.

When you post visual cues like this, you can jumpstart the positive aspects of being nostalgic about the past and move forward with motivation and focus.


The last sense, touch, can also stimulate our memories, although in more subtle ways. Whatever sense you are interested in focusing on, you can engage with to help you cultivate nostalgia in your life. So much research has been conducted to show that when people cultivate nostalgia in an empowered way, they can witness incredible benefits in day-to-day life, so it’s definitely worth trying out for yourself.

Photo credits: VILevi/, AfricaStudio/, ESBProfessional/, RamonaHeim/

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