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Scent memory: How a strong fragrance can promote mental well-being

"A scent can remind you of a person, an occasion, or a mood. The scent of a baby is one of the happiest scents."

scent memory, how scents help with mental well-being, mental health and scents, perfumes and fragrances, scents and nostalgia, indian express newsA certain fragrance or smell can be so evocative and nostalgic, it can bring back memories and emotions. (Photo: Pixabay)

The next time you feel yourself losing balance and getting anxious about something, just take a whiff of your favourite perfume. There is an exact science that explains how that can have a calming effect on your mind and body.

The pandemic has ensured we focus on our physical health and also our mental well-being. The uncertain days that we spend languishing — wondering when we will get to have a glimpse of normalcy — have impacted our mental health.

But, not a lot of people know that a strong sense of smell has been associated with our well-being for many decades now. That the olfactory cortex — which is also a part of our limbic system, located in the temporal lobe of the brain — processes all kinds of sensory inputs, thereby impacting our emotional responses and memories. This is precisely why a certain fragrance or smell can be so evocative and nostalgic, bringing back memories and emotions.

Elaborating this, Sheetal Desai of wiSDom Fragrances — a luxury fragrance line — said smells can produce both psychological and physiological responses.

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“Aromachology is the study behind the psychological benefits of aromas (aroma + psychology). It delves into the psychological impact a smell can have on the brain. It is different from aromatherapy. Aromachology focuses on the reaction to different aromas. While linked to the health of our mind, aromatherapy is actually more about a holistic healing treatment, using essential oils and natural extracts, to treat common ailments,” she said.

The role of perfumes

According to Desai, scent memory is when our brain logs scents — similar to a diary entry — smells a perfume, and the memory registers it. “The next time you smell that same scent, it may take you back to that first experience, be it positive or negative.”


“A scent can remind you of a person, an occasion, or a mood. The scent of a baby is one of the happiest scents. The fragrance of your father is often associated with security. The scent of freshly-baked cookies can be comforting. During World War II, many soldiers took scented handkerchiefs with their loved one’s perfume,” she explained.

It should be noted that while scents are subjective, some scents have a collective response. In that, they are used universally and have been accepted by people across the globe in the same fashion. Citrus-based scents, for instance, which stand for freshness, are widely used in perfumery, and in households for the cleanliness attribute, Desai said.

“Scents that often make one feel comfortable are those related to food such as vanilla, or a freshly-baked cake, or the smell of coffee. Experience with food always brings comfort and hence the aroma memory also triggers a sense of comfort.”


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First published on: 25-05-2021 at 14:10 IST
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