Chemical Senses and Memory

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Smell and taste is one of the most interesting topics of sensation and perception. These senses are stimulated chemically. In other words, for example when chemicals stimulate the receptors inside of the taste buds in mouth, we start to feel the sense of taste. These buds are in papillae. We are able to taste from our tongue, throat and inside part of the cheeks. However, the most sensitive part is our tong. The front edge of the tong is very sensitive for sweet tastes and the upper sides of the front tong tastes salty very well. Also, tong's middle sides are sensitive for sour tastes mostly where the spicy tastes are sensed mostly at the back of the tong. However, it is an unavoidable fact that the entire tong itself is able to sense and detect every kind of tastes at any parts because receptors and taste buds are everywhere on the tong. For example, one can easily taste a very spicy pepper from his/her front edge of the tong. The thing is, different types of tastes have different and specific spots on the tong.

Another chemical sense it the smell. While we breathe, we also inhale some chemicals that are in the air and some of them stimulate the receptors which are located in the nasal passage. After these receptors are notified by these chemicals, the message is ready to be sent to the brain. These chemicals could be from flowers, food, perfume or even a person's own smell.

These senses are not only for us to detect things but also remind us how we felt during the times that we have interacted with specific tastes or smells. As the interview which is recorded in video with Dr. Stuart Firestein, from Columbia University, says that the connection between taste and smell, and memory is still unexplainable. There are theories that could bring an explanation to this issue and one of them says that they are processing in intimate locations of the brain; hence, they might be affecting each other. They both connect to memory but the strongest sense that triggers memory is the smell.

In my opinion, it is very interesting to remember exact emotion when I smell something even though that memory belongs to many years ago. For example, couple weeks ago I smelled someone's perfume and it reminded me my childhood because my mother used to use the same perfume.

All in all, it is obvious that smell and taste are very important chemical senses for us and have really strong connection to memory, especially the smell, even though scientists have not figured out why.

For the interview and video:


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The interview with Stuart Firestein is a fantastic find! Next time I encourage you to actually add it, embed it, to your post. I suspect most people who read your post won't go on to watch the interview; that's a shame because it is worth the effort of copy and pasting the link.

The way to add a video like this: look for its embed code. For the BigThink videos, the embed code (they call it just code) is found at the end of the video. Paste that code in your edit screen--it will be incredibly long and ugly--and when you post, you'll see the interview itself.

Very apt examples of what Dr Firestein was talking about--emotional, scent-linked memories.

This blog post really interested me because this has actually been happening to me a lot lately! For example, the other day I was showering and the girl in the next shower over was using Biolage shampoo and conditioner, which I used as a child. This instantly brought back memories from my childhood. After reading this post and watching the video, I went and researched it a little more and found some other interesting theories.

I found a blog written by Jonah Lehrer, talking about smell and memory. One particular paragraph really got my attention... in his post he stated:

"Why is smell so sentimental? One possibility, which is supported by this recent experiment, is that the olfactory cortex has a direct neural link to the hippocampus. In contrast, all of our other senses (sight, touch and hearing) are first processed somewhere else - they go to the thalamus - and only then make their way to our memory center. This helps explain why we're so dependent on metaphors to describe taste and smell. We always describe foods by comparing them to something else, which we've tasted before. ("These madeleines taste just like my grandmother's madeleines!" Or: "These madeleines taste like the inside of a lemon poppy seed cake!") In contrast, we have a rich language of adjectives to describe what we see and hear, which allows us to define the sensory stimulus in lucid detail. As a result, we don't have to lean so heavily on simile and comparison."

I never really realized it, but this really does happen ALL the time. I often find myself comparing new foods to something i've already had.

Now i'm curious as to how some foods can taste like a smell? Have you ever heard anyone say "this tastes like the smell of _______?" For example, the other night I heard someone say "this gin tastes like a Christmas tree," and they obviously don't eat Christmas trees, so they must referring to the smell.

I forgot to add the link to the comment above, so if you would like to read the rest of Jonah Lehrer's blog post, go to:

Thank you very much for you comment, Kathleen. I will try my best for the next time to embed the link to my post.

Also, thank you very much for sharing the blog from Jonah Lehrer, zier0052. I think it is very interesting and teaching.

Nice conversation going here. I am totally fascinated by the chemical senses and we really know very little about them. Interesting how smells can evoke such vivid memories yet we struggle to attach language to what we smell.

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This page contains a single entry by avira001 published on October 1, 2011 6:15 PM.

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