Valerie Varnuska loves walking through nature in the vicinity of her Westbury, NY, home. As she enjoys the outdoor air, she is often fascinated to find that a particular scent evokes strong memories of times past. When Valerie Varnuska smells skunk cabbage, for example, she instantly recalls hiking down a country road in the heat of summer with a group of friends.
Valerie Varnuska isn’t alone in experiencing these olfactory sensory cues. Psychologists have long realized that smell, perhaps more than any other human sense, is closely linked with memory, and that the link may be a result of brain anatomy.
In humans, all incoming scents are initially processed by the olfactory bulb, a network of nerve tissue extending along the bottom portion of the brain and reaching inside the nose. Its position at the bottom of the brain connects it directly with the amygdala and hippocampus, areas of the brain involved in emotions and memories. Many experts believe this anatomy explains how certain smells can recall strong memories.