Making Scent Memories: Why Scents Trigger Nostalgia

Have you ever had a smell jog your memory or transport you to another time? A tropical-scented candle might bring you back to a warm vacation you took years ago, or perhaps a colleague’s perfume reminds you of your grandmother’s sweet demeanor. All of our senses relate to memories, but scent, in particular, can spark a specific emotional reaction.

It’s been scientifically proven that scents can trigger nostalgia from past experience  — a phenomenon referred to as scent memories. A recent study done by German neuroscientists, Christina Strauch and Denise Manahan-Vaughan, has proven that our brain relates odors and the feeling of nostalgia by categorizing scents in the same area that stores long-term memories — the amygdala. 

The limbic system acts as the brain’s emotional control panel — controlling and supervising the functions of the amygdala, the hippocampus, and among other parts. This system is responsible for everything from emotion and behavior to long-term memory and sense of smell. 

A specific cologne might remind you of an ex, while the scent of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies evokes a childhood memory. Both positive and negative emotions are linked to scent and handled within the amygdala the same way a “flight or fight” response is processed.

Typically, when information is sent to our brains through one of the five senses, it passes through the thalamus. The thalamus is then in charge of relaying information to the correct part of our brain. Scent, however, takes a different route — skipping the thalamus completely.

Instead of being processed by the thalamus, scent goes directly to the brain’s smell center called the olfactory bulb. If you walk into a bakery and smell freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, that scent will travel to your brain and into the olfactory bulb to be processed. 

The smell center of the olfactory bulb is located next to, and connected to, the amygdala and the hippocampus — where our brain stores emotional memories. Your brain stores emotional memories next to scent, meaning your brain recognizes the smell of the chocolate chip cookie in the same moment it will remind you of that childhood memory. 

The link between the amygdala, the emotional memory processing hub, with the olfactory bulb, the place smell is processed, explains why our brains connect the two. Our brains use scent to understand and compartmentalize these long-term memories, including an emotional response.

At Helmm, all of our premium fragrances were designed and developed for a full experience. Trailblazer may transport you to a summertime camping trip taken with friends, and you might associate Coastline with memories of a weekend by the beach. Hudson could remind you of a crisp day in the Spring air when Night Market jogs your memory of a winter holiday spent with family.

Helmm is made for anything from adventures to the everyday. Our team is incredibly proud of the development and design of our four scent profiles at Helmm — and we hope that whatever smell your go-to Helmm scent is, it evokes an excellent scent memory. 

Make new memories with Helmm when you take the Helmm. Find your favorite scent at

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